Royal Canal closed for 26km over low water, hearing told


An oral hearing into the proposed abstraction of water from Lough Ennell to feed the Royal Canal has heard how 26km of canal are currently closed because of low water.

Westmeath County Council’s presentation to An Bord Pleanála outlined how Lough Owel, which also supplies all drinking water to Mullingar and its catchment area, can no longer support domestic and canal supplies.

The canal east and west of Mullingar had to be closed this spring and Nigel Russell, director of technical services at Waterways Ireland, said “a substantial source of water” must replace the Lough Owel supply if the canal is to remain open, requiring an average of five million gallons a day.

Lough Owel is the canal’s main source since it opened in 1817. Under a legal pact with CIÉ, which was formerly responsible for the canal, the council is committed to providing an alternative supply if Lough Owel becomes unsuitable.

From 2010 until the closure of the Mullingar stretch, the entire canal had been fully navigable from Dublin to the Shannon. In high summer up to 9.6 million gallons a day is piped from Lough Ennell to the canal.

Waterways Ireland backs the council’s application. Mr Russell said “an open, working, living canal will enhance the communities it passes through . . . and maintain a vibrant wildlife corridor”. Lough Ennell is classified as a special area of protection under the EU birds directive, and a special area of conservation under the habitats directive.