22nd September

As Lough Corrib degrades, who supervises the supervisors?

Roderick O’Sullivan

Think Lough Corrib is a sea of tranquil beauty? Think again. Did you know that a sizeable percentage of Galway and Mayo’s agricultural wastes and slurries flow into it via its vast web of over-ground and subterranean waterways? Or that the lake receives sewage from distant Ballyhaunis, Tuam and from neighbouring Headford, Moycullen and Claregalway?

Sewage from Ballinrobe and Claremorris also transits Lough Mask into the lough. Many of the catchment’s sewage-treatment-plants are antiquated, spewing pathogenic organisms (Cryptosporidium, Salmonella, E. coli etc) into the lake while bacteria-rich sewage-sludge spread on neighbouring land similarly percolates into Corrib. This same lake supplies Galway and Tuam’s drinking water.

Irrevocable damage

These pollutants have degraded much of the infrastructure on which Lough Corrib’s status as a Special Area of Conservation (SAC) depends. Sandy bays silted; weeds proliferating; aquatic-life obliterated. Many parts of the lake are irrevocably damaged.

Responsibility for Lough Corrib is a right old ragbag: Galway County Council (GCC) handles drinking-water and public health concerns; the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) ‘monitors’ the lake; Inland Fisheries Ireland (IFI) oversees fish issues.

But GCC never tackles pollution; it reacts to erupting pollution episodes in a knee-jerk way. And because many county councillors have farming connections it won’t enact by-laws against the agricultural effluents which cause 73% of the lake’s enrichment (EU figures, not mine).

When these pollutants cause algal blooms, GCC simply recommends that everyone boils their water and avoids the lake. And, abracadabra, the rain washes the scum away!

Cryptosporidium outbreak
In 2007, by not bothering to carry out statutory weekly bacteriological analyses on Lough Corrib, GCC ushered in the country’s largest Cryptosporidium epidemic. This hospitalised 200 and sentenced Galway to drinking bottled-water until de-contamination equipment was eventually installed.

Who paid for this negligence?  You did, my tax-paying friend – millions and millions of Euro.

Nobody bothers with Lough Corrib provided the pollution remains invisible; however when masses of the curly-leaved waterweed, Lagarosiphon, became a recent eye-sore, Inland Fisheries Ireland used a variety of methods – including the granular herbicide Dichlobenil – to control it at a number of sites.

Did anyone mention that pollutants from neighbouring State forestry plantations induced the proliferation of Lagarosiphon?  Of course not. (Taxpayers also fork out millions to support forestry).

Dichlobenil should never be discharged into waters destined for human consumption because its aquatic use is restricted to sluggish watercourses, ponds and ditches.

Dichlobenil kills insects, birds, shrimp, mussels, snails and worms. It also kills both weed and neighbouring vegetation, thus eradicating the essential web of plant life which provides food, refuge and breeding areas for a host of aquatic organisms.

Known toxicity
It beggars belief that whoever sanctioned its use in waters destined for everyday drinking, cooking and washing could not have been aware of its well-documented toxicity.

Ireland’s de-greening continues apace. Lough Corrib’s desecration is the latest casualty of myopic environmental policies that indicate a Banana Republic rather than a First-World democracy. The similarities between Ireland’s environmental ‘supervisors’ and those who dragged our country into its current financial morass are obvious – this same gargantuan ignorance coupled with malignant indifference have caused much of Ireland’s environmental ills.

The ancient Romans hit the nail on the head with their question, “Quis ipsos custodes custodiet?” or “Who supervises the supervisors?” God help Lough Corrib.

Dr Roderick O’Sullivan is a writer, environmental scientist and international authority on salmon farming. In 1996 the Lough Corrib Angling Federation commissioned a water-quality report from him which was the largest ever carried out on an Irish lake.

It concluded that sewage from the surrounding towns was combining with gallons of slurry and causing pollution or ‘enrichment’. Untreated or inadequately treated sewage was responsible for 20% of the problem, he found.

GCC dismissed the report and O’Sullivan lodged a complaint along with the report to the European Commission. In 2006 the Commission upheld his findings and issued various warnings to the Irish Government over its ‘failure to abide by EU Law and provide clean water supplies for its citizens’.


Agency responses

[GCC, IFI and EPA were shown extracts of this article and invited to respond. On receipt, corrections were made to the original. Due to space limitations we are unable to include these responses in full. They can be viewed on our website www.inshore-ireland.com.]
Gery Flynn, features editor

The use of dichlobenil was one of a number of options in a research programme aimed at getting to grips with Lagarosiphon in Lough Corrib and preventing its spread. The experimental control programme was approved by the management group of the Western River Basin District and by the steering group of the EU LIFE, Control of Aquatic Invasive Species in Ireland (CAISIE), project which includes National Parks and Wildlife Service, Environmental Protection Agency, Galway County Council and Inland Fisheries Ireland.
 While the use of any herbicide does pose potential risks to the aquatic environment, the proliferation of Lagarosiphon was judged to be a more immediate and dangerous threat to fish populations, in particular, but also to the overall long-term ecological balance of the lake.
The subsequent withdrawal of dichlobenil by the EU means that the chemical can no longer be used and complete reliance must now be placed on mechanical means of control.

Galway Co Council
There is a statutory requirement for monitoring to be carried out each year for all water supplies. GCC Council has a monitoring programme in place to fulfil this requirement. There is no requirement to carry out cryptosporidium monitoring unless in the event of an incident. However GCC carries out cryptosporidium monitoring at the Luimnagh Water Treatment plant at the high risk times each year. In addition to this the treatment plant at Luimnagh is designed to treat the water to ensure that there is no risk to the public from cryptosporidium.

We refer you to the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) Section of our website on which the actual facts relating to Lagarosiphon major control in Lough Corrib are detailed: http://.www.fisheriesireland.ie/FAQ/lagarosiphon-control-in-lough-corrib.html. 

It is clear that your correspondent has chosen to ignore the considerable information and detail set out at this link.

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