21st June

Pollution investigation stalls due to agency refusal to increase funding

The author of a report that was to be funded by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) but was never published, stands by its main finding that human faeces are largely responsible for recurring green tides in the Argideen river estuary at Courtmacsherry, Co Cork.

Green tide Courtmacsherry

The inherent increase in sewage waste is most probably responsible for the nutrient enrichment in the Argideen River estuary, and the lack of adequate sewage treatment facilities in the area has further enhanced the problem.                                                                            

In early 2007 Dr Stefan Kraan, then manager of the Irish Seaweed Centre at NUI-Galway, lead a team of scientists in a bid to pinpoint the orgin and type of pollutant causing the macro algae green tide, Ulva. Ulva is common around the Irish coast but it began to appear in usually high quantities on beaches in the inner Courtmacsherry Bay in the mid-1990s, mainly on the sheltered tidal flats onto which the Argideen and Kilbrittan rivers drain.

The beaches - which contain 10 habitats listed on Annex 1 of the Habitats Directive and are also designated SACs – have since been regularly blighted by huge amounts of rotting, foul-smelling Ulva.

An EPA Small Scale Study in 2004 estimated that the algae measured over 3kgs per square metre, and had a total biomass of over 10,000 tonnes. This report suggests that the primary cause is due to increased inputs of nutrients, in particular those derived from land-based activities, and likely to include agricultureal run-off, sewage input and natural environmental nutrients.

Debate continues to rage locally about the problem, with residents increasingly anxious that the source of the high levels of dissolved nutrients be found and addressed. Two-and-a-half years after submitting his findings to the EPA however, Dr Kraan recently confirmed to Inshore Ireland that he has now withdrawn it.

“We would love to have done more, but the EPA came back saying that we had to do more and more and more. We couldn’t do that with the amount of funding they were offering, and that’s basically where it stopped as far as we were concerned.”

Asked if he stood by the findings, Dr Kraan said: “This may have been a preliminary investigation but it definitely points very clearly to human waste as the main cause for the macro algal blooms over the past decade. The isotope analysis confirmed this, and the result is clear. This problem is coming from faeces of human origin, and I stand by that!

“Farming in the area has been stable over the last 15 years, however residential and tourist populations have grown strongly in the same time period. The inherent increase in sewage waste therefore is most probably responsible for the nutrient enrichment in the Argideen River estuary, and the lack of adequate sewage treatment facilities in the area has further enhanced the problem.”

The following is an exchange of dialogue between Inshore Ireland and the EPA:

II. A report seen by Inshore Ireland entitled Using Stable Isotope Analysis to trace nitrogen sources in areas affected by macroalgal bloom was submitted to the EPA on 13 March 2007.

• What was the substance of the EPA's ‘comments’ to the report's authors?

• Did the EPA identify flaws in the report which have prevented its publication?

• Does the EPA agree with the report's findings/conclusions?

EPA: EPA undertook a full review of the report and returned comments to the authors. The authors declined to address these comments and withdrew the report for consideration by the EPA. The comments addressed such issues as incomplete literature review, conclusions not backed up by data, insufficient interpretation of results etc

II: If so, has this been sorted out between the EPA and the authors in the meantime?

EPA: Following receipt of the EPA comments the authors decided to withdraw from the project and not draw down the funding.

II:Does the EPA consider it to be crucial that the origin of the pollution in the Argideen river case be identified?

EPA: This will be addressed through the Water Framework Directive monitoring programme

II: Has the report been published?

EPA - No

II: Does the EPA intend publishing the report?

EPA: The report was withdrawn by the authors

II: Is the Argideen river and estuary being monitored as part of Ireland's obligations under to Water Framework Directive?

EPA: Yes, the Argideen is currently monitored four times a year for nutrients, chlorophyll, physico-chemical parameters and annually for opportunistic macroalgal growth.

II: What have been the results from this monitoring?

EPA: In the interim WFD classification reported to RBDs earlier this year the estuary was classified as MODERATE status.

II: What action has the EPA taken since December 2007 to trace the source of the pollution in the Argideen river and estuary?

EPA: Ongoing monitoring as part of the WFD monitoring programme

II:What does the EPA recommend as a remedy for the pollution in the Argideen river estuary?

EPA:  A number of measures are outlined in the draft River Basin Management Plan a revised version of which will be published early next year. 

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