Tuesday, 14 October 2008
Seanad Eireann Debate
Senator Fidelma Healy Eames: I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Michael Kitt, a fellow county person. I wish to raise the pollution of Lough Corrib which, as the Minister of State knows, is the source of Galway’s drinking water and the effects of that pollution.
Last Friday I heard a news report on the official Environmental Protection Agency results which said that Lough Corrib is a polluted lake which is the source of drinking water for Galway county and city. An experienced angler who is passionate about the water quality of Lough Corrib stated that on the Headford side of the lake, water quality has been deteriorating consistently for the past 30 years owing mainly raw sewage being deposited into the Headford river and into Mountross Bay from an overloaded sewerage plant which was incapable of treating the effluent. While that plant is now capable of treating the sewage efficiently, the damage has been done and it will take 20 years for the lake to recover. The water, which used to be clear to the bed of the lake, is now murky and the recent presence of zebra mussels, African weed and blue-green algae, which inhibits water flow, is a testament to how badly the lake has been polluted. Fish stocks are also affected and anglers report that very few trout were caught this year. However, that is only on the Headford side. There are other sides which are in a far worse state.
I wish to speak about Oughterard, Clonbur, which is the home of the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív, and other areas. The Carra Mask Corrib group, which is really interested in the life of Lough Corrib, has said that raw effluent continues to be discharged into the water which affects the water quality. In particular, areas such as Oughterard, Clonbur, Claregalway, Corofin and Dunmore, some of which are in the Minister of State’s constituency, are badly affected, very polluted and need permanent treatment facilities which they do not have.
For example, in Oughterard, two private samples were taken by RTEs “Prime Time Investigates” programme and by the Mail on Sunday. These two separate tests revealed there was 50 times the allowable limit of cryptosporidium going into the Corrib. The allowable limit is nil. Has this been checked by the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and the Minister? What are the levels now? Is that water safe? I do not think so.
We must remember that the Corrib is the source of water for Galway city and county and it must be safe. Equally, detergents are going into our water and there is evidence of 30% phosphorous in our water. Germany does not allow any phosphorous in its water while Switzerland and Italy allow only 1%. We are falling down there.
There is a clear link between county water and city water and the Minister of State knows as well as I do the serious problems we have experienced in Galway city. The county may be the source but the city has been mainly affected as well as parts of my area of Headford and Oranmore. It is widely felt that the problem is with the Clare river. Cryptosporidium and other bugs like e.coli are carried around the county and city by this river. The cryptosporidium outbreak last year was caused by human effluent in the water. This is definitely due to the lack of adequate tertiary treatment facilities for raw effluent. It is quite simply poison.
I would like the Minister of State to outline his plans and the timeframe for the treatment systems for Oughterard, Clonbur and Claregalway, in particular. As the Minister of State knows, cryptosporidium destroyed public confidence in the public water supply. It was followed by e.coli and now lead contamination. The fall-out from all this means that not only tourism has suffered but also the home owner who must buy bottled water. We have had one mess after another. Sickness has ensued and health has been threatened but, thankfully, there have been no fatalities so far.
Last week I was really disappointed when the Cathaoirleach refused to allow my Adjournment matter on lead contamination for which the Minister of State must answer. The reason it was rejected was that it was described as a repetitive motion because the matter was raised in respect of Mallow the previous week. I refute that completely. I looked at the response given by the Minister. It was appalling and there was no comparison. As the Minister of State knows, Mallow has a totally different council, different budgets, the problem was on a lesser scale and it is not a city. Dismissing my Adjournment matter relating to Galway as out of order was a lazy approach taken by a Minister.
I have walked around the areas where people are affected. They are worried about the cost of water and the weight of bottled water for older people and the cost of blood tests and water tests. Why do councils and the Health Service Executive continue to aggravate the public? I listened to the Minister, Deputy John Gormley, on the evening my leader, Deputy Enda Kenny, was in Galway about two weeks ago and he said resources were not an issue when it came to water quality. What assurance can the Minister of State give that Galway drinking water is safe? What resources are being provided and what measures are being taken to clean up Lough Corrib which is the ultimate source of this water? It is extraordinary that those who discharge effluent into water, such as the council in the case of Mutton Island, are given licences by the Environmental Protection Agency and that towns like Oughterard and Clifden are so badly affected. I look forward to hearing about the measures the Minister of State is implementing and resourcing in the two areas I mentioned.
Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government (Deputy Michael P. Kitt): I thank Senator Fidelma Healy-Eames for raising this issue as it gives me an opportunity to outline how my Department is working to improve water services infrastructure and water quality in the Corrib catchment and in Galway generally.
My Department’s water services investment programme 2007-09 includes more than 50 major water and sewerage schemes with a value of more than €464 million for County Galway. There are a further eight schemes worth in excess of €114 million for Galway city. A significant share of the sewerage schemes in the programme are in the Corrib catchment. They will play a major role in preserving and improving water quality in the river and lake. They include Headford, which is substantially completed, Dunmore, Tuam, Oughterard, where I attended a meeting a month ago with the local committee, Claregalway, Milltown and Corofin. Galway County Council is also providing a new scheme at Clonbur under the devolved rural water programme which is part funded by my Department.
Sewerage schemes already in place within the Corrib catchment with the aid of departmental funding include Tuam — phase one, Moycullen, Cong, Ballyhaunis, Ballinrobe and Claremorris. Where schemes have yet to begin, I assure the House that my Department is anxious to facilitate progress as quickly as possible and is in ongoing contact in that regard with Galway County Council. All these schemes will help protect the Corrib, the main source of Galway city’s water supply.
New drinking water treatment facilities will be provided under the Galway city water supply scheme to be funded under the water services investment programme at a cost of €22.1 million. The Minister has approved Galway City Council’s proposals for a €3.6 million advance element of the scheme to upgrade the Terryland water treatment plant to cater for the city’s medium-term needs. I understand Galway City Council has received tenders and hopes to begin work shortly.
With regard to water quality in Lough Corrib, the Environmental Protection Agency monitoring for the period 2004 to 2006 shows that the upper section was classified as being in a mesotrophic category, indicative of a low level of pollution, and the lower section was classified as being oligotrophic, suggesting a very low level of pollution. Both these classifications were consistent with satisfactory water quality conditions and were based on the level of total phosphorous and chlorophyll measured on at least 12 occasions in each of these years.
Since December 2006, a new monitoring programme has been in place to meet water framework directive requirements. Based on data collected in 2007 using this programme, a generally positive interim assessment of status for Lough Corrib upper and lower has been determined. The classification systems used to determine status have been approved at EU level.
There is ongoing liaison between my Department and relevant State agencies on the co-ordination of policies and actions for water management in all areas. The nitrates regulations, which came into effect in 2006, were developed in close consultation with the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and Teagasc and are supported by an enhanced package of financial supports for farmers and cross-compliance systems operated by the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. The regulations provide a statutory basis for a range of measures to protect waters such as Lough Corrib from pollution by nitrates from agricultural sources.
Overall, I confirm that a wide-ranging and comprehensive range of measures is being implemented to preserve and protect Lough Corrib. These are backed up by substantial public funding and a commitment to continued improvement in the quality of our rivers and lakes and our drinking water supplies.
Senator Fidelma Healy Eames: I thank the Minister of State for his response. We have been hearing about the water services investment programme for years and all these sewerage schemes have been on Galway County Council plans for years. The question I have is when Oughterard, Claregalway and Clonbur will have their tertiary treatment systems and whether the councils have the required funding yet.
Deputy Michael P. Kitt: The Senator has put a number of questions. I already referred to the meeting I had in Oughterard and with the committee in my office in Tuam. The Department is in constant contact with Galway County Council on the three issues. I cannot give a definite date but we are working hard to try to get a start on those schemes.
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