Mains water and sewage . . .

The magnificent Kielder Water, Europe’s largest man-made lake, supplies water to the whole north-east.

The diary entry today owes its provenance to several comments and notes: i. Our own challenges with our private water supply and sewage system; ii. Peter Armstrong’s comment about dealing with the waste after the Sparty Lea Poetry Festival; iii. Joan Morgan’s note about the sewage system installed beneath the River Path, which has cleaned up the River East Allen. Combining these thoughts brings us to a consideration of the mains water system in Allendale, and its corollary, the sewage system that drains the village. It suddenly seemed reasonable to note just how Allendale village gets its mains water, and how it deals with its sewage.

So, apparently Allendale’s water now comes to us from Kielder Water, carefully distributed into the River Tyne (Kielder Reservoir is fed by two burns which are the source of the North Tyne, and the big dam at Kielder regulates the subsequent flow of water into the North Tyne which eventually meets up with the South Tyne just above Hexham; fresh water for the region is abstracted from just east of Ovingham. See Catchment Management, Northumbrian Water). A century and more ago Allendale’s water came from 3 local sources (Dr. Mason’s Rectory Field, Isaac’s Well, Wentworth Spring), as Nora Handcock’s book Allendale: Twentieth Century Memories points out (as if, in other words, Allendale was supplied by private water sources, much as we are up on the high fells today). It appears now that the big pumping station at Riding Mill (currently in the finishing stages of a £12million refit, due to be completed in 2020) supplies Allendale’s water at pressure, as well as being able to pump water over to Tyneside and Teesside.

Still, it’s useful to remember that we’re also drinking water from the River Allen, East and West, which flows into the River Tyne above Hexham, thereby contributing to the abstraction supply near Ovingham. And if that’s the case, nobody wants to be drinking water contaminated with sewage waste, do they? So the Sewage Treatment Plant, situated in a carefully screened position beneath Allendale Caravan Park, down the road left of Catton Chapel, which drains the sewers from Allendale Town before sending cleaned water back into the Allen, is working quietly all the time, in unsupervised solitude. I stopped by yesterday to take a photograph, and the big circle of water spray was steadily doing its job sprinkling water over and into the huge treatment ponds, to help the bacteria break down the waste solids which then settle out (usually in two settling processes), so that the cleanest layers of water can be transferred on and back into the river when minimal harmful constituents are present to affect the fish and plants downstream. Hence, a clean River East Allen.

A combination of two major engineering works then, as the region’s infrastructure has developed: sewage treatment consolidated from the village’s sewer pipes into a single treatment plant that eliminated hundreds of individual effluent wastes and thereby redeemed the East Allen, water from which is then abstracted downstream after it joins the Tyne, further purified, treated to kill off any residual bacteria, and then piped back to households throughout the patch for folks to drink safely. Well! I’m glad I investigated these matters — helps to put my mind more at ease as I understand better how the mains system works ‘in town’ as compared with the individual domestic arrangements up in the remote households of Sparty Lea.

So when you run the tap for your bath or shower, you might be cheered by the thought that Kielder Water (and certainly some water from the River East Allen, fed far up in the ‘heeds by rainfall on those drumlie hills) will doubtless protect our fresh water supply for generations to come, even though they may have endless drought conditions down south, and may even, some say, have to purchase some of the north-east’s water for survival. That could be an opportune time to try to redress the old north-south divide, couldn’t it?

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