From The Neolithic To The Sea: A Journey From The Past To The Present

Meldon Dam and Reservoir

50°42'10.8"N 4°02'24.0"W

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Meldon Dam and Reservoir is fed by the West Okement River, located near the A30 road, close to Okehampton, Devon.

The Dam blocks the West Okement River, creating a large reservoir to its south west side. It supplies water to north and west Devon, and is used for trout fishing. The dam is a concrete gravity structure 50.9m high, with a span of 201m. Construction began in 1970 in response to increasing demand for domestic water supply. Meldon Dam is now owned and operated by South West Water. It generates some 9kW of hydroelectricity, which is used for instrumentation functions inside the dam. The structure was the last dam to be built on Dartmoor, and is adjacent to the Granite Way cycle route.

The immediate postwar years saw changes in the administration of Devon's water resources. The existing localized water suppliers were amalgamated to create public Water Boards which in 1973 became part of the South West Water Authority covering the whole of South-West England.

Dartmoor was granted the status of a National Park in 1951, this lead many to believe that schemes to harness its resources that had an adverse impact on the landscape would be blocked in the future. When the North Devon Water Board announced in 1962 that a new reservoir was required for its southern division, disclosing their favoured location was within the park on the West Okement at Meldon. This lead to immediate objections from the planning authority and amenity organizations, both local and national.

The Meldon objectors were given fresh hopes by the discovery of high levels of arsenic and lead in the spoil-heaps from long abandoned 19th century mine workings within the reservoir's catchment. Opinions were divided among the interested parties as to the significance of these findings. The Board's own advisors held that the normal purification process at the Prewley works through which all water drawn from Meldon reservoir would pass, would be sufficient to reduce the concentration of dissolved toxins below the recommended levels. To satisfy the Ministry that it was taking the pollution threat seriously, the North Devon Water Board ultimately agreed to remove the spoil heaps from the area to be flooded, and to seal off the old mine workings.

The Minister's decision letter backing the Meldon reservoir was published in November 1968. The only remaining recourse available to the objecting amenity societies was an appeal to the Parliamentary Ombudsman that an injustice had been done. They were aware that the Ombudsman could not himself quash the Water Order, but they hoped that a critical report might pressurise the Minister to withdraw the Order.

Construction of the dam at Meldon Gorge began in early March 1970 and was completed in March 1972. On the 15th Mr W H Wilkey, Chairman of the North Devon Water Board, closed a valve on the dam to begin impounding water from the West Okement. The official opening ceremony took place on September 22nd of that year, as recorded on a commemorative plaque.