Polluted Waterways


Sir, - Water pollution is now endemic throughout the country. In 1998 the Killarney Lakes joined the list of seriously degraded lakes, while the waters of Lough Gill are unfit for drinking by either animal or human. Lough Conn is eutrophic as are Loughs Erne, Neagh, Sheelin, Derg, Ree and Cullin. Parts of the Shannon are unsafe to even swim in. Huge algal blooms deface Lough Carr and three recent reports suggest parts of Loughs Corrib and Mask are similarly afflicted. Portions of our great rivers Barrow, Nore, Suir, Blackwater and Liffey resemble open sewers. Thousands of unmonitored waterways that once supported thriving colonies of fish are now barren. Two thirds of Connaught's deep wells are polluted by agricultural wastes; public warnings along the south-east coast forbid the eating of contaminated shell-fish, with agricultural bacteria again the culprit. The list goes on and on.

Agriculture accounts for approximately 75 per cent of water pollution; sewage for 20 per cent. Legal threats from the EU have finally prevailed upon the Irish Government to acknowledge the seriousness of the problem.

Arresting water pollution must involve wide-ranging and public debates on modern farming; where do the daily millions of gallons of agricultural liquors go? What is the fate of farmyard washings and slurries rained off the land? They all end up in our waterways but the combined political and financial muscle of agribusiness backed by the Departments of Agriculture and of Finance ensure that the bad environmental press is minimised.

Now, with the help of almost £1 billion of EU funding, sewage treatment in Ireland is being overhauled. Even if this programme is 100 per cent successful, the polluted state of most of our waterways will remain unchanged unless the Department of Agriculture and farming interests agree on an environmentally acceptable system for disposal of agricultural wastes. Neither Bord Failte's coloured brochures nor Department of the Environment flimflam will entice back the tourist-anglers who have seen what has happened to our once-pristine waterways.

But ... the Government has finally unveiled its grand plan to restore all of Ireland's waterways to their former unpolluted states: the county councils. Yes, where all other agencies have failed, the good old local authorities have been given 10 years to clean up all of Ireland's lakes and rivers. The councils already hold the soubriquet of being the most consistent and persistent polluters of waterways in both Britain and Ireland.

They also lack the trained manpower, the necessary scientific and analytical skills and the laboratory and financial backup to even approach this complex problem. Without any compulsory component or extra legal powers, expecting under-funded and over-stretched local authorities to solve the greatest single threat to Irish waters is, of course, absurd.

It is particularly sad that the state authorities have not taken the opportunity to finally face this national problem of water pollution. Subjecting our vulnerable waterways to this hair-brained and highly speculative rehabilitation programme by the self-regulating and self-policing county councils will only sentence our lakes and rivers to another era of supervised neglect and benign indifference from which few are likely to recover. - Yours, etc., Roderick D. O'sullivan,

Maida Vale, London W9.