Drinking water plant on Liffey not notified of raw sewage spillage, court hears

Human error resulted in failure to warn of potential for contamination of water supply

An EPA inspector told the court that an emergency overflow usually set off an alarm but the Leixlip abstraction point, which supplies drinking water to 600,000 people, was not warned on time.

An EPA inspector told the court that an emergency overflow usually set off an alarm but the Leixlip abstraction point, which supplies drinking water to 600,000 people, was not warned on time.

 

A “Third World” Irish Water treatment plant dumped raw sewage – enough to fill five Olympic swimming pools – into the River Liffey, a court has heard.

The untreated wastewater spewed out from the Newhall Pumping Station in Co Kildare, when it repeatedly broke down in March 2019, the Dublin District Court was told.

Another plant downstream in Leixlip, which uses the Liffey to supply drinking water, was not notified, Judge Anthony Halpin was told.

He fined Irish Water €7,000 after it pleaded guilty to six charges of breaching its operation licence. The prosecution was brought by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Brian Coffey, an EPA inspector, told Judge Halpin the plant pumps sewage from Naas to a treatment plant in Osbertown, Co Kildare. It was an ageing infrastructure, the court heard.

On the evening of March 13th 2019, the pumps “tripped” and stopped working. Sewage was discharged into the Liffey as a result of an emergency overflow.

Mr Coffey said this usually set off an alarm alerting the large scale plant downstream. However, the Leixlip abstraction point, which supplies drinking water to 600,000 people, was not warned on time about three of the four incidents.

It could have shut down its intake until the pollution had flowed past but the alarm was not raised until a caretaker came into the Newhall plant, hours after the discharges began.

Some 13,800 cubic metres of raw sewage was discharged into the river between March 13th and 22nd.

The EPA inspector said that was enough to fill five and a half Olympic swimming pools.

Inland Fisheries Ireland (IFI), the State agency responsible for Ireland’s inland fisheries and sea angling resources, was not notified.

Judge Halpin said: “It sounds like a Third World operation system”, and he noted that Irish Water had convictions from previous EPA prosecutions.

Defence counsel Eoghan Cole said human error resulted in the failure to warn the drinking water treatment plant downstream. Irish Water put a new training regime in place afterwards, the judge noted.

Judge Halpin recorded convictions and imposed fines totalling €7,000 and noted that Irish Water has agreed to pay costs.