Tales of the riverbank. Where does your water come from?

River Derwent, North Yorkshire

Water has been a big topic this summer. We haven’t got enough of it. But things might have been worse if it hadn’t been for a pioneering scheme in the 1960s that allowed Sheffield to source water from an unlikely source.

South Yorkshire has at least fifteen reservoirs and more minor ones, but according to Dr Jenny Stephenson in her book ‘The History of Water – the Sheffield reflection’ (2019) not all these service water to the area. Some act as ‘balancing’ or ‘service reservoirs’ which receive water, pumped, or channelled into them, their purpose being to balance supply with demand. Others are ‘impounding’ reservoirs into which a river flows naturally.

The biggest shock is that Sheffield’s water is mainly from the River Ouse and River Derwent, in North Yorkshire, only in part being from the reservoirs on high ground above Sheffield.

The water from rivers is typically classed as hard water because the water gathers minerals (mainly calcium and magnesium) as it runs through and over rocks. Water from reservoirs is normally softer as it comes from high ground and moorlands.

Increasing demand in the 1960s, in which Sheffield used nearly 38 million gallons of water daily for industry and domestic use, meant that the city’s water supply from the Pennine hills had reached its limit.

In 1965, it was supplemented with the Yorkshire Derwent Scheme, which involved river water being treated at Elvington, near York, and delivered along 37 miles of pipeline to an underground service reservoir at Hoober Stand near Rotherham.

You might be surprised that the scheme was instigated by Sheffield Corporation, because of the Sheffield Water Order 1961, and it designed and executed the work at a cost of over £8m. It was cleverly designed so that Leeds, Barnsley, and Rotherham, also received a share of the water and paid contributions to Sheffield.

The treatment works at Elvington softened, clarified, and filtered water to remove impurities and sterilise it.

The first pipe was laid in May 1962, built by John Brown Ltd, land and marine constructors, and used bitumen lined welded steel pipes, involving four river crossings, including the Ouse and Aire,  13 railways crossings, and 53 road crossings. Once completed it allowed 15 million gallons of water to be pumped into the city daily.

The first water arrived in Sheffield in December 1964 and was celebrated at a Town Hall luncheon hosted by the Lord Mayor, Alderman Albert Smith, who toasted his 80 guests with water mixed with wine and brandy.

It was inaugurated in September 1965, eight months ahead of schedule, and the last weld was made by Alderman Charles Ronald Ironmonger, chairman of the Sheffield Corporation Water Committee and John Staniforth, managing director of John Brown Ltd.

The last section of the 37-mile all-welded pipeline linking the river Derwent at Elvington, seven miles east of York, with the Sheffield Corporation reservoir at Hoober. Picture Sheffield

At the official opening of the Elvington treatment works, Sir William Goode, chairman of the Water Resources Board, referred to Sheffield needing to increase water flow to 25 million gallons a day and suggested that a reservoir might be built on land owned by Hull Corporation at Farndale on the North Yorkshire Moors. This would have meant flooding the valley, like previous schemes at Ladybower, Derwent, and Howden, in Derbyshire, and provide water for Hull and Sheffield.

However, the scheme was derailed in the 1970s, and Sheffield’s municipal water company was amalgamated into a regional board in 1974 and privatised in 1989 and is now part of Yorkshire Water PLC.

The Yorkshire Derwent Scheme subsequently became a segment in the Yorkshire Water Grid which allows transfer of water around the region to balance supply and demand.

By the way, water from the Ladybower dams, is largely used in the East Midlands.

Hoober Stand Reservoir, Rotherham. Image: Google

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