Sewage entering Nenagh River forces objections to new housing, say local anglers

Commitment in place to carry out further upgrades at Ballycommon sewage treatment plant, says Uisce Éireann

The Nenagh River, which is receiving poorly treated sewage from a wastewater treatment plant at the village of Ballycommon. Photograph: Alan Betson

Locals living near Ballycommon in north Co Tipperary fear that recurring raw sewage discharges into the Nenagh River are threatening important wild salmon and brown trout stocks.

Efforts to preserve these species, including improving spawning areas, are being undone by pollution arising from a growing number of houses in the area, Nenagh Ormond Anglers say.

The waterway is classified as “a rich lowland river” and flows into nearby Lough Derg, north of Dromineer – a popular location for swimming and other water-based activities.

The effluent emerging from an outflow pipe comes from a wastewater plant serving the village outside Nenagh, which is unfit for purpose following the building of houses and a new school over the past decade, according to angling club spokesman Joe O’Donoghue.


Sewage flowed into the river for a number of years, yet no effective remedial action was undertaken, despite complaints to local government and State agencies, he adds. “We never realised the effluent from the pipe was going into the river until some of the anglers fishing at night time began to get a strong smell. That pipe should never have been put there at all in the first place.

“Effluent in the river stinks to high heaven and it’s just terrible to think that this awful pollution is the first thing trout and salmon coming up to spawn meet when they leave Lough Derg. Sewage from Ballycommon just should not be pumped into our local river,” he said.

From what they could establish, there was no effective treatment before it entered the waterway. He believed Tipperary County Council was extracting solid sewage sludge from the treatment tank in the village and transporting it to Nenagh treatment plant in an attempt to minimise impact on the river. “It’s just awful to think that little salmon, after surviving all the hazards of the ocean, have to face this awful pollution once they enter their native river.”

Along with Inland Fisheries Ireland (IFI), they have carried out extensive works to enhance fish stocks but Mr O’Donoghue says this is being undermined by pollution incidents. One of the few options open to the anglers to prevent even worse pollution is to object to new housing in Ballycommon, he says.

One landowner, whose farm runs along the river, told The Irish Times extra housing had led to increased discharges, which were clearly not adequately treated – which threatened an important area for wild fisheries.

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Cllr Seamie Morris says the treatment plant was not working to required standards and is discharging poor-quality effluent. Uisce Éireann had reviewed its design capacity and told him it could cater for up to 20 additional houses with better discharge standards and were examining capital maintenance and minor works requirements to improve the performance of the existing works to facilitate more housing until a permanent upgrade is carried out.

The plant was signed over to Uisce Éireann in 2021, which received a complaint from IFI in relation to effluent quality last July.

Cllr Morris says he was told that, following an inspection, the load on the plant did not exceed design capacity but work was required on “flow management” and capital maintenance upgrades were needed before any additional flows could be accepted. As the scope of these works has not been fully determined, the timeline for design, procurement and completion could not be confirmed.

After contacting Tipperary County Council to express concerns about effluent “overflowing in an uncontrolled way into the river for some time now”, he was told the Ballycommon treatment plant had not functioned properly for some time.

“I am surprised that this new plant is functioning so badly that Uisce Éireann are refusing any further connections despite the plant having a capacity of 500 houses.”

This is holding up the building of 27 houses in Ballycommon amid a housing crisis, Cllr Morris notes. The matter was coming to a head as a planning decision was imminent, while discharges into the river were continuing intermittently.

Uisce Éireann said the Ballycommon treatment plant was a privately developed plant that it took over in 2021.

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“Since then we have carried out regular maintenance works at the plant to improve its performance. This includes regular desludging and removal of material from site to prevent overflows to the river,” a spokesman said.

Uisce Éireann is committed to carrying out further upgrades at the plant and has engaged with the original suppliers of the treatment system with a view to optimising its performance, he added. Further site visits and inspections are being scheduled to confirm the scope of the works.

Occasionally, issues can occur due to plant malfunction or extreme weather, Uisce Éireann said, adding that it had responded to a reported overflow at the Ballycommon plant on February 13th last.

“When such issues arise, the crews on the ground carry out remediation works as quickly as possible to restore the plant to normal operation. Working with our partners in Tipperary County Council, all corrective actions were completed, including desludging to help prevent future reoccurrences,” the spokesman said.

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan is Environment and Science Editor and former editor of The Irish Times