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Anglers accuse water users of draining life from top salmon river; WELSH WATER SAY EXTRACTION NOT TO BLAME FOR LOW FLOWS.

Byline: ALED BLAKE

WILDLIFE on one of Wales' most well-known rivers is at risk because it is being drained to supply households and canals with water, anglers are warning.

And the unseasonably warm and dry weather is adding to the pressures on the fragile ecology of the River Usk in Monmouthshire, according to the Angling Trust.

It says abstraction by Welsh Water and canals body British Waterways, as well as the arid spring, means the Usk is as much as six inches lower than it should be at this time of year.

The river is one of the nation's most popular for trout and salmon fishing, but anglers say the low water level is affecting stocks as well as other plant and animal life.

According to the Angling Trust, the low river flow is also threatening young salmon due to make their way to sea for the first time.

The situation is so bad that anglers have stopped fishing the river just as the fly season gets into full swing.

The Angling Trust - which campaigns for the protection of the UK's river environments - says British Waterways is taking too much water to keep up levels of its Monmouthshire & Brecon Canal.

Mark Lloyd, the chief executive of the Angling Trust, warned that up to 40% of water is being abstracted from the Usk at Brecon, with Welsh Water also taking water to maintain its Llandegfedd Reservoir downstream.

With water flows low, blanket weed and sediment build up on the river bed, making it difficult for invertebrates to survive which in turn is affecting fish and bird life, explained Mr Lloyd.

"It starts killing off a massive food supply for everything that relies on the river," he said.

"As well as that, the gravels are where the fish lay their eggs and a build up of sediment means they can't spawn there."

Mr Lloyd, who lives in Abergavenny, said the river should be at least half a foot higher at this time of year, with a clearer and faster flow of water.

He said: "At present, the river looks painful. It's like looking at a forest and seeing it withered and brown when it should be green.

"It's a really sad sight and we need to do something about it - as well as the big organisations abstracting from the river, we all need to conserve water."

Mr Lloyd urged people to stop washing their cars and watering lawns, take a shower instead of a bath and use water-butts to collect rainfall for the garden.

"The whole of southern Britain has been gripped by a drought over the winter and this spring, we have had a succession of dry springs and it's a real problem which has a big impact on wildlife, fishing and the economy of Wales.

"This is normally peak time for fishing but you can't now because it's so difficult to fish."

Welsh Water yesterday defended its abstraction policy on the Usk, saying it operated well within the boundaries set down by Environment Agency Wales.

A spokesman for the utilities firm said: "While we are entitled to abstract 395 million litres per day from the River Usk, we are currently only abstracting around 22% of this amount as we reduce our abstraction as the river level falls."

British Waterways said the canal performs a vital economic function, attracting tourism and supporting recreation - bringing pounds 17m to the local economy, supporting nearly 400 jobs and pulling in three million visitors.

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* Water levels on the River Usk are six inches lower than expected, putting its wildlife at risk, according to the Angling Trust
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Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Apr 20, 2011
Words:603
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