Impacts of Wind turbine construction on Hydrology and Geohydrology

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The ‘Request for Action 2004/35/CE‘ was lodged with the Scottish Government and agencies in July 2014. The Scottish Government response stated that SEPA is responsible for damage to the Water Environment: “In the Environmental Liability (Scotland) Regulations 2009 transpose the Environmental Liability Directive, article 7 of the 2009 regulations identify SEPA as the competent authority in respect of damage to waters or land.”

Thus SEPA was therefore instructed to ‘review’ the ‘Request for Action’.

Request for Action (RoA) contains the detail and the evidence from Dr Rachel Connor’s research into water contamination associated with Whitelee windfarms. It demonstrates the risks windfarm construction has on the water environment.

In my layperson’s opinion, and according to findings shared with others for confirmation, SEPA’s response is defective and does not address many of the issues raised.

Overview and update:

Dr Rachel Connor found out that construction activity for the phases of Whitelee 1 and 2 wind developments had caused water contamination problems. Each phase of construction was accompanied by an Environmental Statement ES, but each of these repeated the flawed assessments which led to contamination issues and resulted in similar inadequate conditions. The ES for subsequent windfarms have followed a similar pattern.

Whitelee WF 3 Extension

In the  Whitelee3 decision notice 398989  issued only in October 2016, 20 months after the Inquiry, Dr. Rachel Connor was criticised by Scottish Power and the Reporters as being unqualified to draw any conclusions as to how so many water supplies during that windfarm construction were either lost completely (four in total) or suffered serious contamination with sediment and bacteria. Whitelee Extension Phase 3 – PLI report lasted almost a week and dealt largely with the alleged impact, caused by constructing Whitelee WF original and its two Extensions (2006 -2013) on public and private water supplies as well as on surface and groundwater. Permission was ultimately refused for “landscape” reasons. Case Reference WIN-190-1.

Sneddon’s Law Inquiry

In the Sneddon’s Law Inquiry case No PPA-190-2058 and PPA-190-2054 (a windfarm application which was also likely to affect  the private water supplies around Whitelee), a professional water risk assessment, commissioned by the developer  used the same background geohydrological features as present at the adjacent Whitelee windfarm to draw many of the same conclusions as were drawn by Dr Rachel Connor and her team at at Whitelee 3 public inquiry. That private water supply risk assessment predicted a major short- and long-term risk to quality and quantity of water to 9 PWS and moderate short- and long-term risks to 11 PWS from construction and operation of the Sneddon Law windfarm. Therefore, doubt cannot be cast on the credibility  and the conclusions of their experts which appears to vindicate Dr Rachel Connor’s evidence. Sneddon Law WF Private Water Supply Risk Assessment (PWS RA):                      Chapter 3.2.5 identifies the same potential effects which actually occurred during the construction of Whitelee windfarms: the contamination of surface and ground water caused by leakage and spills of chemical from vehicle use and groundwater contamination from concrete pouring for turbine foundations within excavated areas, in close proximity to groundwater linked to potential pathways linking the source of the pollution with the receptor. Again, the potential for erosion and sedimentation pollution into surrounding watercourses, during construction, occurs during rainfall events from exposed ground or borrow pit excavation and ground disturbance in the proximity of emergent springs can also cause a deterioration of sub surface water quality. The last paragraph of the Sneddon Law PWSRA 3.2.5 states:

The introduction of impermeable infrastructure and any associated drainage during the construction phase of the Development, may lead to the diversion of flow from upper catchment areas. Whilst turbine foundations will be impermeable, access tracks and material used for the temporary and permanent substation will be of crushed stone and will maintain a level of permeability. Diversion of flow could lead to deterioration in the quantity of water along its original pathway, causing a potential reduction in yield at any abstraction point; and could remain for the life of the impermeable barrier. In addition, excavation from borrow pit construction or dewatering can result in the lowering of the water table. The assessment of ‘drainage’ in this WRA refers to the potential for the Development to alter the direction of natural drainage paths to the source. This could result in a reduced volume of water along the natural drainage path. The potential for an activity to cause a reduction in flow is again based on a combination of the type of flow path, the nature, direction and extent of the activity and local topography. The assessment of this potential risk is based on implementation of good practice throughout all phases of the Development, professional judgement and experience from other relevant projects.

PWSRA Chapter 4.3 Geology and Hydrology again confirms Dr. Rachel Connor’s findings of complicated aquifer flows which are unknown without detailed studies and even then, due to the complex nature of the groundwater, studies should not be taken as a complete reference point as some groundwater pathways will still Not be known.

Developer’s Jargon and ‘Good Practice’

‘Good practice’, ‘professional judgement, desk studies and experience from other relevant projects’ is jargon used by developers and does NOT provide factual information. How can the developer be allowed to submit an Environmental Statement (ES) which is so deficient in scientific fact and monitoring results that it fails to list almost all the PWS that are deemed to be at major risk of either pollution (loss of quality) or loss of quantity, or loss altogether?  Developers routinely fail to recognise the importance of identifying the location of water sources and water supply zones, as opposed to locating properties with PWS. Water supply zones can be several kilometres from the emergent spring or borehole water supplies and these zones may be within the actual windfarm development sites. If developers submit Environmental Statements which do not identify ALL PWS and their actual water sources at risk, and do not identify ALL watercourses at risk, then how can they be protected?

SEPA’s designated (LUPG 31)

In Sneddon Law Enforcement Appeal -Inquiry Report – Ralph Spernagel (PWS RA) many of the PWS at risk were outside SEPA’s designated (LUPG 31) 250m ‘one size fits all’ buffer zone. This is SEPA’s guidance for the minimum distance for a water source to lie from a windfarm related excavation of more than 1 metre in depth (i.e. borrow pits or turbine foundations.) This rule of thumb is “designed” to provide absolute protection for private water supplies. But it does not do that.
At the 2018 Sneddon Law windfarm public Inquiry into an Appeal by the developers against an Enforcement Notice served by the Council for allegedly failing to comply with mitigation  measures for private water supplies, contractors for the appellants described (within Inquiry documents) how in their involvement of constructing the south west Scotland power interconnector, nine PWS were affected and required alternative boreholes to be drilled to reinstate water supplies. They stated that the work to construct the interconnector was similar to building a windfarm and how at least one of those PWS affected was outside the ‘safe’ buffer zone required by SEPA and said to protect water supplies from construction activity.
The Inquiry statement from the recent Sneddon Law windfarm PWS Enforcement appeal Inquiry from the consultants (Natural Power Ltd) employed by Community Wind Power Ltd., (All documents related to this enforcement appeal can be found on ENA-190-2009.

The PWSRA in paragraph 3.2.3 suggests that because searches are based on property location, rather than source location, that the search area is based on a 500m radius from the boundary as it provides ‘a more conservative and precautionary assessment and aims to capture any source locations that are at a distance from the registered property’. It also highlighted the need to consider the fractured nature of the bedrock as potential hydrological pathways and that each PWS needed to be individually assessed and highlighted that assessment should be driven by localised hydrological and hydrological conditions and not restricted to the LUPS-GU31 SEPA guidance of 100m and 250m.

Water Frameworks Directive

The stated major risks of affecting water quality not only risks public health by virtue of contaminating water, but it risks the welfare and business of farm animals and wildlife, which is dependent on clean water.

If water supplies are affected, it will be because groundwater is either contaminated or groundwater flows have been altered by quarrying or construction. These effects are likely to last months and may be permanent. Such changes are contrary to the Water Framework Directive and transposed Scots Law.

Public Protection of Water Supply

East Ayrshire Council have now also been sensitised by the historic problems as a result of  Whitelee windfarm construction; not just by PWS problems, but by deterioration in the raw water quality from the two public water reservoirs within the Whitelee windfarm site, which has contributed  to and prompted the need to build a £120 -200 million pound water pipe to provide alternative water supplies for Ayrshire from Loch Katrine north of Glasgow The Council  employed its own environmental and hydrological consultants and had refused to discharge the previous Sneddon Law windfarm PWS risk assessment versions on the basis that these were incomplete and inadequate. This should be standard procedure for all councils who have windfarms within their boundaries. Consultants should follow the recommended published SEPA and SNH guidance, by conducting a proper water supply risk assessment, by speaking to local residents and assessing individual PWS and by considering the site specific geohydrology and risks and producing a report with integrity.

Rural dwellers rely on their private water supplies and usually have no alternative supplies. They are more vulnerable to contamination and pollution than public water supplies. It should not be the case in 21st Century Scotland, or elsewhere in the U.K, that our citizens have to fight for the right to protect and maintain their water supplies in a clean and wholesome condition. SEPA has been presented with many issues of water contamination from windfarm development including Kilgallioch and Blackcraig windfarm in Dumfries and Galloway. Unless a full independent Geohydrology report is made standard practice with all the correct monitoring, then citizens will continue to become ill as the water environment continues to become contaminated.

Construction Impacts on Groundwater

Diagram 1. below illustrates the potential for pollution:

Reporting at the original Whitelee Windfarm site during its construction, Jacobs, commissioned by Scottish Power Renewables was to undertake a programme of groundwater monitoring and sampling, laboratory testing and subsequent assessment. The aim of the work was to provide data to assist in the future assessment of whether windfarm development was having any impact on local groundwater quality.

The windfarm was officially opened and became operational in May 2009. Following the completion of the construction works, Scottish Power commissioned Jacobs to undertake a further round of groundwater sampling and laboratory testing for comparison with the previously collected data.

As a result, it was recommended that alongside ground water monitoring during Phase 2 developments, bi-annual monitoring of the boreholes within the Phase 1 area should also continue to be undertaken and the data reassessed on a yearly basis. During this monitoring it was recommended that phenols at ground water test boreholeWP01 are specifically targeted and subjected to further assessment and review. This process was conveniently lost or omitted from requirements for the Whitelee windfarm extensions.

Is it possible that when SPR discovered the extent of water contamination that this data was conveniently lost as it would have caused windfarm development to be environmentally toxic? This has led to a situation where accredited and substantial monitoring just does not happen.  

It therefore transpired that the consent and building of subsequent windfarms, such as Arecleoch, and Kilgallioch were allowed to go ahead without proper environmental impact assessments on the water environment. Scottish Power Renewables reiterated ‘good practice’ and desk top studies and were never required to do full base line water quality monitoring for Arecleoch. There have been incidents of pollution of the Stinchar and tributaries that have gone unchallenged, or put down to bad farming practices. Living on the edge of one such tributary, close to the River Stinchar and Water of Tigg, I can testify to visual pollution incidents – sadly I was unaware of their cause at the time of Arecleoch construction, so I did not request testing. The Arecleoch Extension Application for 200 metre turbines on the site of the Water of Tigg catchment area is about to be presented, which again will play havoc with the surface and groundwater of the Stinchar Valley and PWS.

Groundwater pollution prevention measures cost 10–20 times less than groundwater clean-up and aquifer remediation programmes.  The importance of water quality monitoring cannot be over stressed. If no groundwater testing results are  requested from the developer by planning or regulatory authorities, even in relation to assessing impacts to groundwater from potentially polluting activities such as quarrying, the importance of potential pollution pathway into shallow groundwater through superficial deposits or to deep groundwater through rock fractures is not adequately assessed.


CIRIA 352 is regarded as a key reference in guiding construction methodology and SPR makes reference to complying with CIRIA recommendations in its construction mitigation methods.(Planning condition 6.4 WL Extensions) CIRIA 352 states with regard to avoiding pollution 2.5.3 : Piling, in particular vibro-replacement piles forms a direct flow pathway down columns of granular material for contaminated water and leachates to potentially move into an underlying aquifer both during and after construction.

Blasting for quarries, turbine bases and access roads can further fracture the bedrock and form pathways direct to the aquifers (see diagram 1).  Quarry sites are selected for their easy access to the bedrock and are often at the top of a water catchment area. They are continuously used by heavy contract vehicles such as bulldozers and excavators etc. (which require fuel and oil etc.). Any spillage could find its way directly to the aquifer through a fracture with no potential to mitigate.

‘Repowering onshore wind farms: a technical and environmental exploration of foundation reuse.’ ‘A Carbon Landscape and Drainage’ has relevance. (Appendix 3)

Forestry Commission Scotland

It must be the biggest and worst conflict of interest ever in the UK – that Scottish Government consents applications from which it will receive financial benefit; against the wishes of affected residents and local Councils and Community Councils. The Galloway Dark Sky Park is operated by the Forestry Commission which again presents a conflict of interest as it cannot be an independent objector to windfarm applications as it also gains financial benefit from the rent of the land to industrial windfarm developments.


The National Forest Estate is Publicly owned and thus run by the Scottish Government and managed by Forestry Commission Scotland (FCS). FCS has split the National Forest Estate into six development areas to investigate the potential for wind energy projects across Scotland.

Following a commercial negotiation process underway since 2009, Scottish Power Renewables has been awarded exclusive rights to investigate the feasibility of new onshore wind energy projects within the National Forest Estate in an area that extends from Langholm in the east to Stranraer in the west, in the southwest of Scotland. We also have additional rights to examine further projects across four of the other areas.

Nisbet (2001) stated that the major water quality concerns associated with commercial forestry are increased turbidity and sedimentation due to the soil disturbance accompanying cultivation, drainage, road construction and harvesting operations; and the enhanced capture of acid deposition by forest canopies resulting in further acidification of surface waters.

The deforestation in preparation for windfarms is clearly linked with increased C and P concentrations and export in stream water.

Aquatic Carbon Loss and Dissolved Organic Carbon

Accelerated forest clearance in preparation for windfarms cannot be separated from windfarm development as forestry would simply NOT be felled in this way other than to facilitate clearance for these industrial sites. Therefore, the water contamination associated with forestry clearance has to be considered as part of the windfarm development.

The following research is further evidence (it supports evidence from Murray 2012; Waldron et al. 2009 ): “Understanding aquatic carbon loss from upland catchments in south west Scotland during land use change from commercial forest to wind farm” by Melanie van Niekerk 2012 Submitted to the School of Natural Sciences Biological and Environmental Science University of Stirling Scotland. (Appendix 4)

This research provides one of only three studies to investigate concentrations and fluxes of dissolved organic carbon DOC in water courses draining land subject to disturbance relating to wind farm construction. It is the only study that incorporates a period of time prior to work beginning and takes in the whole of the development phase. In this respect it provides a valuable addition to our understanding of the way in which peatlands respond to land use change and may provide useful tools to assist developers in minimising the impact of their activities on these valuable carbon stores.

This research has:

  1. Added three new catchments to the detailed knowledge base of DOC concentrations and fluxes from UK peatlands. It has also presented some of the highest known values for such areas. It also provides one of only four studies to investigate concentrations and fluxes of DOC in water courses draining land subject to disturbance relating to wind farm construction (Grieve & Gilvear 2008; Murray 2012; Waldron et al. 2009);
  2. Confirmed the persistence and dominance of the seasonal pattern of DOC through a period of land use change and shown how the pattern was modified by two harsh winters;
  3. Highlighted at the catchment scale an impact from wind farm development on DOC concentrations and fluxes;
  4. Elucidated some activities that led to elevated DOC concentrations and fluxes, for example turbine base installation and forest harvesting;
  5. Introduced activity scores as a novel means of attributing changes in DOC to the type and intensity of development activity; and
  6. Used E4/E6 ratios as a way of detecting changes to DOC composition resulting from land use change.

This piece of research is highly relevant both by providing valuable information on the construction effects and confirming the impacts of forestry and windfarm construction on its water environment yet it is not referred to in any developers ES

Drainage Ditches

 A potential consequence of drainage ditches at wind energy facilities on blanket bogs is the risk of peat slides. These have been recorded at a number of wind energy facilities in Ireland and Britain (e.g. Derrybrien, Co. Galway and Garvagh Glebe, Co. Leitrim) and the construction of drainage ditches associated with roads have been linked as a secondary causal factor (Lindsay & Bragg, 2005 ; Long et al., 2011b). In their paper classifying peat movements, Dykes & Warburton (2007) define a peat slide as “failure of blanket bog involving sliding of intact peat on a shearing surface at the interface between the peat and the mineral substrate material or immediately adjacent to the underlying substrate” (Tosh, D.G., Montgomery, W.I. & Reid, N. (2014). ‘A review of the impacts of wind energy developments on biodiversity’. Report prepared by the Natural Heritage Research Partnership (NHRP) between Quercus, Queen’s University Belfast and the Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA) for the Research and Development Series No. 14/02).


Forestry and peat are the two main sources of carbon capture and much of our forestry and peat lands are integrated in Scotland needing real protection. The Scottish Government’s energy policy of industrialising our forests and peatlands is releasing vast quantities of CO2 into the atmosphere See Ramsar protection

Draining peat is the equivalent of burning fossil fuels. Draining an area of peat, the size of a football field (the base for each individual windturbine) releases the same amount of CO2 as driving a family car 3x round the world.

The loss of peat that has already occurred in Scotland to facilitate wind energy production, is a vast loss of a natural, irreplaceable, major carbon store; a complete contradiction, when reducing CO2 emissions is apparently the goal of installing windfarms.

It takes a thousand years to create one-meter depth of peat. It is naïve to believe that the damage caused can be mitigated in just a few years. It is ironic that in trying to encourage renewable energy generation, developers are succeeding in tearing up areas of natural carbon regulation unsurpassed by anything in human technology. Forests and the sphagnum moss, which drives peat formation, holds significant amounts of water and releases it only slowly. This means it is held for long periods in the uplands before it finally filters towards the lowlands, so providing a degree of natural regulation which helps prevents downstream flooding also purifying the water before it enters the reservoirs and the rivers. Industrialisation, on this massive scale, of these pristine protected water catchment zones has led to deteriorating water quality for many people in Scotland. This is industrial scale exploitation of designated water catchment areas.

Water is a basic human right

Water is a basic human right and a requirement for life. How can any windfarm be consented which is associated with a major risk of polluting water supplies, which is contrary to planning guidance and which provides a clear and present danger to peoples’ health and well-being?



7 Responses to "Impacts of Wind turbine construction on Hydrology and Geohydrology"
  1. Andrew says:

    Thank you for this article. I’m actually referencing most of it in an Ecology objection to the Teviot Wind Farm proposal.

  2. Mary Angerbrandt says:

    Thank you for the best information I have found on this topic. My Michigan township is 65% prime farmland and they want to construct 700′ turbines in 2 small communities. We are 100% reliant on wells for our water. Thank you for sharing this information. If you have any updates, please let me know.

  3. Robin W says:

    Excellent article, I’ll chase down the appendices and links. One area not yet covered – windfarm construction on granite bedrock and the generation and impact on pws of the potential for incresed radon in water supplies and the environment dependant water sources? Thinking of blasting from borrow pits, constructed roads with granite sourced rock, rock dust and use in turbine bases. Then consequent radon air levels being i creased within towers considered as confined spaces.

    • Admin says:

      Thank you for this information especially as many wind turbines are on granite bedrock in Scotland. I shall inform my EHO who took part in the Arecleoch Extension inquiry as there are many concerns re the private water supplies being impacted by wind turbine construction.

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