Garry: 50 years of ecological disaster.
Rewatering becomes a realistic possibility
The River Garry was identified as a priority for restoration early on in the Water Framework Directive implementation process, years before the first River Basin Management Plan was published in 2009. However, the question of how much flow was required proved to be a source of debate for some years. In the first instance, back in 2006, SSE proposed that a flow be restored from the main Garry Intake of 0.5 of a cumec to be offset by increases in abstraction elsewhere, including from a tributary of the River Spey. The board objected to that proposal on the grounds that it felt there should be a higher flow in the main river plus flows in tributaries potentially accessible to salmon and a freshet regime to allow adult migration. It was also not acceptable to trade water in the Garry for water from the Spey. Following a formal application by SSE in 2010, eventually in 2013 it was agreed by the Scottish Government that Good Ecological Potential in heavily modified waterbodies meant having a base “hands off” flow of at least Q96 (that is a flow that is naturally exceeded for 96% of the year, in other words a low summer flow). But how is it possible to know what the Q96 flow is in a river that has had no flow for 60 years? This was done theoretically using computer programmes. But again after some debate in which the board challenged what it considered to be an overly low estimate, in 2014 SEPA decided that a hands off flow should be released from Garry Intake of 0.941 cumecs and from a tributary called the Allt Glas Choire, 0.21 cumecs. However, this time while the board was satisfied, SSE objected. In 2015 the board suggested a compromise whereby a mechanism might be tried that had a hands off flow of 0.941 cumecs in dry weather but reducing during periods when the background runoff was very high, for example during periods of heavy rain. In 2016, an agreement was eventually reached between SSE, SEPA and the board that flow would be restored from both Garry Intake and on the Allt Glas Choire on this basis. SSE completed this work during 2017. In 2018 work will also be undertaken at the outlet area of Loch Garry to allow a flow to be released into the section between Dalnaspidal and Garry Intake.
In order to get access to the intakes, it was necessary for SSE not to abstract water from any of the tributaries. Therefore, from the date at which work started in May, there was a flow in the main River Garry from the junction of the Edendon Water at Dalnacardoch downstream. Only the last 1.5 km below Garry Intake remained dry during the summer of 2017.
The contractors completed the work at Garry Intake in early August. At the time of writing (late November) work on the Glas Choire intake is near completion. The various tributary intakes were then “turned in” on 20 September and a flow was thereafter maintained from Garry Intake.
An official opening event took place on 30 October. Roseanna Cunningham MSP Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change & Land Reform attended a reception at Pitlochry Dam Visitor Centre and thereafter at Garry Intake the Board’s Fisheries Director was invited to crank the handle to turn on the flow. A temporary compensatory flow was released from the Edendon intake in order to allow the flow from Garry Intake to be turned off and on without drying out the newly wetted river once again.
That proved to be necessary because the Board’s bailiff staff had observed adult salmon jumping at falls at Struan some weeks earlier. They had also observed salmon above those falls but not above a second fall further upstream. In early November Board staff walked the river several times and were delighted to observe some adult salmon spawning in the Dalnamein area. A number of fish were observed and approximately 30 salmon redds.