Ballintra – another impassable ESB dam

This is Ballintra Gates at the outfall of Lough Allen, in the upper River Shannon. This dam has a fish pass that does not work. This is another ESB dam which is a major barrier to fish migration on the River Shannon.

there are now more salmon passing though through Paris on the the industrialised River Seine than though Killaloe on the River Shannon

This dam regulates water levels on Lough Allen, and also flows in the upper River Shannon. According to the Shannon CFRAMS study, the Ballintra sluices were installed by ESB in the 1930s – at the time of the Shannon scheme – to “increase the control over Lough Allen, primarily so that low flows on the lower Shannon could be augmented from upstream storage for the benefit of hydropower generation at Ardnacrusha“. However “optimisation of storage from Lough Allen is no longer a factor of importance to ESB in the generation of power at Ardnacrusha“, according to this study. As is fish passage….

Ballintra gates, August 2014

In the 1990’s millions of unfed salmon fry were released into watercourses in the Lough Allen catchment, as part of the long defunct River Shannon Salmon Management Programme. These watercourses included the upper Shannon at Dowra and above, and the Arigna, Owenayle, and Owengar Rivers – all potential salmon rivers. Although some salmon from this restocking programme migrated to sea and returned to the River Feorish (which joins the Shannon just downstream of Ballintra gates) and River Boyle (a bit further downstream) and spawned successfully, none ever made it back to the Lough Allen sub-catchment. This was identified at the time to be the result of the dysfunctional fish pass at Ballintra gates. In the winter of 1994/1995 two dead salmon were found downstream from Ballintra gates, and many more have died here or had to run the Feorish catchment instead. We surveyed the River Feorish last week and salmon are absent from here and have been for the last twenty years, due to a failure of fisheries management on the River Shannon.

It has been known since 1995 that the fish pass at Ballintra gates does not work but nothing has ever been done about it. The entrance of this pass is too hard for fish to find due to turbulence. Once in the pass turbulence becomes an even greater problem and there is no evidence that any fish species can successfully negotiate this pass. There is also a problem for salmon smolts moving downstream, due to the undershot gates which salmon smolts find difficult to use.

The photos below show Ballintra gates, the fish pass and adjoining areas during late August 2014. One of the photos also shows evidence of significant organic pollution (eutrophication) in this part of the river. After fish passage, water quality remains one of the major challenges on the River Shannon. Click on any of the photos to activate the gallery.

There is of course some work to do before salmon can reach this part of the River Shannon again. Addressing the fish passage and water management issues on the lower River Shannon must of course come first. However, it must be remembered that this dam also blocks local movements of coarse fish and brown trout so replacing this pass should be a local fisheries management priority.

This is an abject failure by any measure and the ESB should be held to account for this

The ESB no longer release juvenile salmon into the upper Shannon, and runs of salmon though the ESB’s fish pass at Ardnacrusha have now fallen to disgracefully low numbers. Only a few hundred passed upstream though Ardnacrusha during 2013 in a river which has a conservative conservation escapement target of 45,000 salmon per annum. This is an abject failure by any measure and the ESB should be held to account for this. The state agency and regulator Inland Fisheries Ireland just don’t seem to understand the issues. Take Paris on the River Seine – there are now more salmon passing though through Paris (>1,000 p.a) than Athlone on the River Shannon (none?) even though the Seine is one of the most industrialised and urbanised rivers in Europe and salmon have to travel 175km inland and pass though the Poses dam before reaching Paris. It is also likely that many of the salmon actually getting past the ESB’s Lower Shannon dams have got lost and were destined for the Mulkear catchment or Castleconnel. Every winter a significant number of salmon line up in front of the intakes at Ardnacrusha trying to find a way down – but like the kelts that follow they die as there as there is no way down (so why release the kelt in the Royal Canal? it would probably never get out of the canal and if it did it would have died in front of the intakes at Ardnacrusha).

When you look at the upper Shannon in detail you can see that the habitats are still there to support a significant and self-replicating salmon run

The photo below shows the stretch of the River Shannon at Dowra. This is above the Shannon navigation, and above Lough Allen. This is a clean upland catchment with considerable salmon production potential. When this river was restocked with unfed salmon fry in the 1990’s, as part of the River Shannon Salmon Management Programme, exceptional results were obtained and these fish grew quickly and went to sea as one year smolts. If this river flowed directly into the sea – rather than Lough Allen – it would be capable of supporting an annual run of thousands of salmon. If salmon were restored to the upper River Shannon this stretch at Dowra would be a fishery of note. When you look at the upper Shannon in detail you can see that the habitats are still there to support a significant and self-replicating salmon run to the area. It is time to address the fish passage and water management issues on this river and get the salmon back to Dowra for the centenary of the Shannon scheme.

River Shannon, Dowra
Upper Shannon downstream of Dowra, Co Leitrim

PS:  The base compensation flow that the ESB release from Ballintra gates into the upper River Shannon is 5 cubic meters of water per second (m3 sec-1 or cumecs). To put this into perspective, the ESB only provide a compensation flow of twice this (10 cumecs) to the Lower River Shannon. The catchment area of the River Shannon at Parteen weir is 10,410 km2, while the catchment area at Ballintra gates is 425 km2. This shows just how low and inadequate the compensation flow the ESB provide to the Lower River Shannon from Parteen weir actually is, and how it is inadequate for maintaining the good ecological status of this Special Area of Conservation.

For further information please also the following links:-

For more on compensation flows in the lower Shannon please see this post here.

One thought

  1. The reason for low numbers of salmon passing through ardnacrusha fish pass would be over poaching on the river thousands of salmon get taken from the river in nets some nights maybe theres five or six different crews doing it so until they really address the siruation it aint going to get any better and its been going on for years on that river

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