THE River Don is to be used to generate hydro-electric power for the first time as part of a £1.7 million scheme.
British Waterways is setting up a joint scheme with power a firm called Small Hydro Company, to build the generator alongside a structure which will allow fish and canoes to pass on the river at Sprotbrough Falls in Doncaster.
Hydroelectricity from the generator will be sold to the National Grid and cash received from the scheme will be spent on maintaining the historic 200-year old network of canals and rivers.
British Waterways believes the hydroelectricity scheme will generate 1370 megawatt hours of renewable energy per year. It will be part of a network of similar schemes planned by the organisation.
The plans have been welcomed by Green campaigners in Doncaster.
Doncaster Green Party spokesman Stephen Platt, a parish councillor for Sprotbrough, said: “I think it is a good idea.
“This sort of thing is coming in now on rivers up and down the country. Generating the electricity from the power of the water coming down the river will be a good move and I think we could see more and more of this sort of thing.”
The other part of the scheme, a plan for a fish pass, follows a long-standing project from the Sprotbrough Heritage Access and Recreation Project group - known as SHARP.
British Waterways says it will remove a barrier that has impeded migrating fish and eels since the rivers were made navigable in the 18th and 19th centuries and one that is the first obstacle to the free passage of aquatic life from the Humber Estuary.
It will restore fish passage to 50 per cent of the River Don and the lower 10km of the River Dearne, providing access to the essential spawning gravels and nursery habitats located upstream of the weir for migratory and resident river life.
Graham Ramsden, regeneration manager for British Waterways said: “The area is a local honeypot spot for woodland walks, pub, boating, angling, river-taxis, so this is a great project to continue its development as a real destination area.
“The SHARP partnership wants to provide a strong attraction for new visitors so we are also aiming to improve access to the site to enable the community to reach the viewing area overlooking the fish pass and there will be improved interpretation in place telling people about the benefits of the fish pass and the ecology of the river.
“Subject to planning approval, it is hoped that the project will start during the late summer.”
Jonathan Hart-Woods, environment manager for British Waterways added: “Because of the weir, returning migratory fish species such as salmon, sea trout, smelt, eel and river lamprey are unable to reach essential spawning and nursery gravels upstream of the weir. This can impact negatively on fish dependent species such as otters, herons and kingfishers.
“Therefore, we’re hopeful that the new fish pass will deliver an increase in both the number of species and total numbers of fish and will make a major contribution to increase the biodiversity of this river system.”