Council fined for polluting river

 

Galway County Council has been fined €1,000 for polluting a 6km stretch of river with sewage on two occasions.

The local authority pleaded guilty to two offences brought by the Western Regional Fisheries Board (WRFB) at Athenry District Court, Co Galway, yesterday. Fish life has been destroyed on part of the Clarin river in Athenry as a result of the pollution which emanated from a local authority sewage pumping station and treatment plant.

The first incident occurred on July 19th last year, and Dr Kevin Rogers, WRFB senior environmental officer, told yesterday's court hearing that the impact severely reduced oxygen levels in the waterway. The court heard that it was caused by a pump malfunction, and the release of untreated sewage from the Caheroyn area of the town via a storm outfall pipe wiped out trout, salmon minnow, lamprey and eels on a 600m stretch of the river.

The discharge lasted three days before being "remedied", and WRFB staff were alerted to the incident by anglers and tourists visiting the town. Near Athenry Castle, dissolved oxygen levels were down to 14.7 per cent saturation, according to WRFB recordings.

A week later on July 26th, a further pollution incident occurred when Athenry's main sewage treatment plant was unable to cope with the level of sewage it was handling. Dr Rogers said that that plant was "obviously overloaded" and had continued to pollute the river during the year. The wastewater treatment plant was operating at a very low efficiency level for the removal of pollutants, he said, and the effluent being discharged into the river had a very high level of ammonia and organic matter.

He estimated that the discharge increased river ammonium levels by a factor of 700-fold at a distance 1.5km downstream of Athenry. He described the sewage outfall as having a "very serious and continuing impact on the Clarin river".

Galway County Council's legal representative, solicitor Imelda Tierney, said that the July 19th pollution was an "extremely regrettable" incident which was "once off". The local authority had addressed the causes, she said, and would be paying full costs involved. Money had been allocated by the Department of the Environment for a new sewage treatment plant for Athenry by 2009, and modifications were being carried out in the interim.

Any new housing developments for the town would now have to provide their own sewage treatment facilities as a condition of planning, Ms Tierney said.

Judge Aeneas McCarthy said that the pollution was "an extremely serious matter" and imposed a fine of €1,000 plus costs for the first offence. He adjourned hearing on the second incident until October.

The case comes at a time when a backlog in upgrading sewage treatment plants has contributed to contamination of Galway city's public water supply. The number of laboratory-confirmed cases of the gastrointestinal illness, cryptosporidiosis, is now at 216.