Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Shannon water for Dublin?

Tomorrow, Thursday, RPS consultants will present a report to the Environment & Engineering Strategic Policy Committee of Dublin City Council, recommending that 350 million litres of water a day should be pumped from Slevoir Bay on Lough Derg to a storage reservoir at Bord na Mona's Garryhinch Bog in Co Offaly, for treatment and distribution as drinking water to the Greater Dublin area and surrounding counties.

Last night Gerry Geoghegan of RPS, accompanied by Colm O Gogain and Pat Fitzgerald of Bord na Mona, gave a preview of their recommendations to a meeting of the Lough Derg branch of the Shannon Protection Alliance in Dromineer, which I attended. They were given quite a hard time. Questions and comments from the floor showed the extent of local opposition to this project. It is clear that there is a vast lack of trust in the water engineers and planners in Dublin and Bord na Mona not to ruin the wonderful natural resource of Lough Derg, which I can see out of my window as I write. The diagrams here are taken from the presentation.
This story will run and run - shades of Shell to Sea.

My own first thoughts on the issue, for what they are worth (probably rather little!) are these:

First, I question the need for a new water supply for Dublin.

The origins of the project lie in the crazy Celtic Tiger years. Demand was forecast to grow from 540Ml/d in 2010 to 800Ml/d in 2031, driven by a growing population and economy. But the economy is now contracting and population is falling, and neither is ever likely to return to the Celtic tiger rates. In future water is likely to be metered and charged for, reducing demand further. And sustainable future growth should be balanced across the State and not just in the Dublin region. As a citizen I do not want to see public money wasted on an unnecessary project. I suspect that those who have spent so many years promoting and planning for the project are not facing up to the chnaged world.

Before the project is allowed to proceed it is essential that the assumptions on which it is based are subjected to independent review, in the light of current data.

Second, (assuming the need for a new water supply for Dublin is confirmed) the proposed option appears to address many of the possible objections, and is difficult to argue against:

  • The 4m3/s average extraction is less than 2½ % of the 176m3/s average flow through Lough Derg. The Garryhinch Bog storage will be a buffer to prevent excessive extraction during periods of low flow if it is properly sized. Water flow can be controlled by the ESB at Parteen & Ardnacrusha to maintain water levels in Lough Derg within the current statutory limits.
  • Alternatives such as desalination and tapping groundwater are unsustainable: desalination is energy intensive and likely to increase CO2 emissions; groundwater is an unrenewable resource.
Lastly, if the project goes ahead, it will be vital to ensure that it will not damage the Lough Derg environment in any significant ways.

In my view we should concentrate our efforts on this, rather than take a position of blanket opposition.

In particular we need to focus on:
  • Improving the currently inadequate scientific understanding of the Lough Derg ecosystem before decisions are made, which must be funded by the project sponsors.
  • Monitoring plans for the extraction point in Terryglass bay and the pipeline through the Shannon catchment to ensure they are environmentally and socially acceptable.
  • Working jointly with similar groups monitoring plans for the Garryhinch Bog storage and onward pipeline.
  • Ensuring that extraction protocols are developed, based on sound science and legally enforceable, to ensure the Lough Derg environment is adequately protected.

  • We should also seek a ‘planning gain’ from the project, with money made available for continuing scientific studies and projects to improve water quality and biodiversity of the entire catchment, and sustainable development of local communities.
  • We should campaign for integrated environmental management of the South Shannon Corridor through application of the IUCN Category V Protected Landscape approach. Several thousand acres of riparian land are already in public ownership, through ESB and Coillte, and a first step would be to develop an Integrated Management Plan for this public land.

No comments: