600 Hectares Drowned
Fifty years ago the landscape and the way of life here was threatened by a proposal to construct a dam at Tylwch, which would have drowned 15 farms and affected many others. If it had gone ahead over 600 hectares of land would be submerged under 18,000 million gallons of water, creating a four-mile long reservoir along the Dulas valley, reaching into Pant y dwr and with four spurs along valley tributaries. 215 people would have been affected and 68 people’s homes would be underwater. An additional proposal was to divert waters from the Marteg and Tawelan at Pant y dwr.
Welsh Water for the English
The purpose of the dam was to regulate the flow of water to prevent flooding of the River Severn and to provide water for the English Midlands. It was controversial, and not just locally, because the use of Welsh water for English consumers was a toxic issue, following the opening of Tryweryn Reservoir in Gwynedd a year earlier and the subsequent bombing campaign by the Movement for the Defence of Wales.
A Dulas Valley Defence Committee was formed to prevent exploratory work by the Severn River Authority and to oppose the scheme by any legal means. The process ground on for a few years, punctuated by reports from engineers, hydrologists, surveyors and lawyers. The Defence Committee established a fighting fund and raised a total of £1132 from 150 individuals and organisations. And they commissioned a survey of demographic and community characteristics from Aberystwyth University.
The Public Enquiry
The Defence Committee had some momentum because of anti-reservoir public opinion and some political sensitivity due to the fallout from the Tryweryn affair. But on the other hand the River Authority argument was that this scheme was one of ten that had been considered and the Dulas proposal was the best option, in terms of low cost, low agricultural value and low landscape value of the Dulas Valley.
The campaigning came to a head in February 1970 at a Public Inquiry at the Community Centre, Llanidloes. Various official and agents of the River Authority gave their reports and Mr Inge, a surveyor said he had made an assessment of the impact of the reservoir on agriculture and the local community. He said that much of the valley land was of poor quality. He agreed that loss of land and severance would be detrimental but that this could be mitigated by amalgamation of land holdings. He thought that by the very nature of the valley spurs and the division of the valley between the counties of Radnorshire and Montgomeryshire, this was a somewhat divided community.
A Community Forged Over Centuries
The community was anything but divided. There were 84 objectors to the scheme, led by Emlyn Hooson QC, the local Member of Parliament and Iorwerth Evans, Chairman of the Defence Committee, Gordon Pugh, Secretary and Mr J Price, Treasurer. In their written and oral submissions the objectors made sure that the Inquiry became fully aware of the rich community spirit, the social traditions developed over centuries, the intricate network of family relationships and the highly developed cultural and religious life of the area. It became quite clear that the River Authority was blind to the distinctiveness and strength of the community and had made only a very superficial assessment of the impact of their proposals. They had completely neglected to take account of sociological factors.
In December 1970 Mr Peter Thomas, Secretary of State for Wales, refused permission for the River Authority to carry out site investigations, on social and agricultural grounds. This effectively killed off the scheme.
Taps Still Running
The Tylwch Dam deserved to fail. The River Authority’s case was that existing provision of Severn water to the Midlands would only last until 1978 and that a new reservoir would need to be brought on stream by then. They got it wrong. Neither the Dulas scheme, nor any of the other nine proposals considered at that time have come to fruition but in the Midlands the taps are still running.© PB 2016
County Times and Gazette 11May 1968,7 March 1970, 5 December 1970
The Times 2 December 1970
Proceedings of the Public Inquiry,February 1970