The issue of raw sewage being discharged into Cork Harbour which was highlighted by the Environmental Protection Agency is being addressed with water quality in the harbour set to see significant improvements over the next two years, according to a local councillor.
Independent Cllr Marcia D'Alton from Monkstown said there had been a long standing problem with raw sewage being discharged into Cork Harbour.
However, she said the opening of a new waste water treatment plant at Shanbally near Ringaskiddy earlier this year was starting to have a significant impact.
“When I was sailing as a teenager in the Lower Harbour in the 1980s, you could see faeces floating in the water and we knew exactly what it was but they put in macerators on the discharges 30 years ago to chop all the visible objects so you don’t see that anymore,” she said.
"Now apart from the odd sanitary towel and baby wipes which get washed up at the deep water berth at Ringaskiddy, you don't see any visible evidence. The only real visible evidence is the seagulls congregating at the outlets as happens at Whitepoint off Cobh, " she added.
According to the EPA report on Urban Waste Water Treatment in Ireland in 2016, Cork and Donegal account for almost 50 per cent of all areas where raw sewage is discharging into the sea with the Ringaskiddy-Crosshaven-Carrigaline area having the largest waste water discharge in 2016,
But the EPA report acknowledged in the report that most of this area is now connected to a new €112 million waste water treatment plant opened by Irish Water at Shanbally between Ringaskiddy and Carrigaline which is starting to have a major impact on discharges.
Cllr D’Alton, an environmental engineer by profession, said the Shanbally treatment plant was due to have been built in 2010 but was shelved due to lack of funding even though developments continued in the area, placing even greater pressure on the already inadequate system.
“To be fair to Irish Water, the Lower Harbour Treatment plant was one of the first items on their to-do list and they turned it around very quickly, within two years and they engaged with the local councillors and community when connecting to the network,” she said.
“Cobh has still to be connected and that will be a challenge from an engineering point of view because they are going to have to retrofit the whole town and then connect to the Shanbally plant with an underwater pipe from Verolme across the harbour to Monkstown so it’s a major challenge.”
Closure of beaches
And although she does not represent the area, Cllr D'Alton is similarly confident a new €12.5 million waste water treatment plant in Youghal due to open in January 2018 will address issues with raw sewage discharges which have led on occasion to the closure of the town's popular beaches.
According to Irish Water, the Lower Harbour Treatment Plant at Shanbally is currently treating sewage from Carrigaline, Crosshaven and Shanbally, resulting in a reduction of 4,000 tonnes of raw sewage that was being discharged in the Lower Harbour every day.
When the project is complete in 2019, the plant will also serve Cobh, Passage West, Monkstown and Ringaskiddy with the capacity to cater for a population in the harbour area of 65,000 and the capability to cater for up to 80,000 as population growth demands, said Irish Water.
Irish Water acknowledged five areas have been identified in Co Cork - Castletownbere and Castletownshend in West Cork, Inchigeelagh in Mid Cork and Whitegate/Aghada and Ballycotton in East Cork with either no treatment or preliminary treatment only.
“Irish Water has now appointed engineering service providers to undertake detailed design, planning and procurement services of the wastewater infrastructure requirements for these areas,” said Irish Water in a statement.
It is envisaged that planning, design and construction for these projects will take three to four years and will be undertaken between 2017 and 2021 when Irish Water will invest an average of €326 million per year on waste water infrastructure nationally, said the company.