A plan to extract up to 41 million litres of water a day from Lough Ree will be subject to public consultation in the New Year, Irish Water has said.
Locals concerned about the impact of the plan have placed notices near the proposed abstraction point at Portaneena, near Glasson in Co Westmeath, saying a public meeting to “save the lake” will take place on January 12th.
The project aims to secure a reliable supply of water for the South Westmeath Regional Supply Scheme which serves Athlone, Mullingar and Moate.
A planning application for the project was deemed “incomplete” by Westmeath County Council in November last year.
Irish Water said on Friday that it was “currently at the planning stage on a project to provide a new water treatment plant for Athlone” at Killenure Lough, part of Lough Ree, “which will ultimately deal with the current water supply issues being experienced in the town”.
The utility said it was “committed to providing a sustainable, secure and reliable water supply to our customers now and into the future whilst safeguarding the environment”. It added: “We will be engaging with stakeholders and the community as this plan progresses.”
According to the original application to Westmeath County Council, the aim of the project is to provide an alternative source to to the current one at Lough Owel near Mullingar.
Lough Owel, which is spring-fed, was a particular cause of concern during the drought last summer.
In a notice lifting the hosepipe ban last autumn, Irish Water said while recovery has been significant in most parts of the county but the regional water supply remained at risk due to continued “falling” levels in Lough Owel.
The organisers of the public meeting were not named on a poster but a number of conversations on the subject were ongoing on social media.
Alan Kelly of the Inland Waterways Association of Ireland, which represents waterway users, said it would be necessary to balance a number of sometimes competing issues when the project proceeded.
He said low water levels had caused a number of groundings on Lough Ree this year and it would be important to ensure that the abstraction did not interfere with the navigable depth of the lake.