17th March

‘Water, water everywhere’……….but will there be a drop to drink tomorrow?

Despite only three months into 2012, there are reasons for some optimism for anyone making a living – or trying to make a living – from the maritime and freshwater aquatic sectors.

And if the plethora of conferences, seminars, exhibitions, gatherings and meetings on the subject of ‘water’ planned or passed nationwide is an indicator, then the groundwork of information-dissemination and networking is having a tangible impact.

And while this observation itself might not be much of a barometer, it should be enough to encourage even the most cynical in these stringent economic times that for the marine in particular, there is cause for optimism.

One of most significant events of the year and the one that is likely to attract the highest number of international delegates is the International Water Association Water, Energy and Climate in mid May at the Dublin Convention Centre.

By any standards this is a major one: over 1,000 delegates from more than 60 countries will debate the issues that impact all facets of water, climate, energy and food – against the ever present backdrop of climate change.

This will be no ‘talking shop’. The IWA is the global leader in advocacy for policy coherence on water and energy. And therefore, whatever declarations, resolutions and recommendations emerge from events like this worldwide they are likely to influence global policy and legislation.

The Congress can be viewed from two levels: global certainly, but also the local.

Part of the packed agenda will have a particular resonance in Ireland in light of this government’s determination to introduce domestic water charges and to put a legislative framework on the highly emotive issue of on-site wastewater treatment units, or septic tanks.

But, there is yet another issue that has the potential to cause even more local grievance than either of these and that is hydraulic fracturing, or ‘fracking’.

Although a sleeping giant at the moment , but not for much longer. Fracking has the potential to wrench communities apart in Leitrim and adjoining counties, for example. And when that local debate grows louder and eventually spills over nationwide as to whether to employ fracking to exploit what could be two trillion cubic feet of natural gas deep in the shale beds of that region, it’s likely to become very bitter indeed.

It must be hoped therefore that the national media will give the 6-day Congress the coverage it deserves, and that our legislators attend in numbers to learn not just about fracking  but about all the key issues affecting water, climate, energy and food, delivered by world experts in their various disciplines.

Another smaller but significant gathering nevertheless, which went largely un-noticed by most media, was the formal meeting of the Oirechtas Joint Committee on Communications Natural Resources and Agriculture with Ms Mette Agerup – the Assistant Director of Norway’s Ministry for Petroleum and Energy to learn from that country’s experience with oil exploration since 1965 (reported in this issue).

The lesson from Norway is really quite simple: a natural resource belongs to the people, and it should be exploited in an environmentally sustainable way.

If Ireland were to do likewise it would be a very good start.

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