An Taisce has called for immediate action to be taken in relation to the “totally unacceptable health and environmental hazard” Glenamaddy where the town’s sewage is being piped into a Special Area of Conservation (SAC ) turlough.
A report released this week by An Taisce has revealed how the sewage for the town is being pumped into Glenamaddy turlough and from there enters a swallow hole which drains the turlough, before re-emerging at Lettera Spring.
The unlicensed sewerage unit which has been in place since the 1950s has been described as “primitive” and has been the subject of internal discussions within various public authorities for at least 20 years. Galway County Council applied to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA ) in 2009 for a licence to regularise the unauthorised discharge. In the application the council noted that “the existing wastewater treatment plant would not be considered to be effective at treating the sewage generated within [Glenamaddy]. It is grossly undersized and may currently be significantly impacting on the [Glenamaddy] Turlough and the ground water in the region.” The application also noted: “Ground water movement out of [Glenamaddy] turlough is toward the Lettera Spring and is potentially impacting on the quality of water used for public consumption in the area.”
The report referred to Galway Councy Council’s attempts to consider alternative sewage disposal options for several years but “almost five years” since the 2009 application “the problem remains and the EPA has yet to take a decision” on it.
As well as posing a “potentially serious threat to drinking and bathing water” An Taisce noted that the “sewage is believed to be impacting adversely on the turlough, which is an SAC under Irish law”. Turloughs are almost unique to Ireland and are one of only 16 ‘priority habitats’ in the country.
Commenting on the report, An Taisce policy director James Nix said: “Several public bodies have a lot to answer for here, not least Galway County Council, the EPA, and the NPWS. In parallel to this report we have lodged a formal request for action with the EPA under the Environmental Liability Directive.
“Just a few years on from the cryptosporidium scandal in Galway city, here we are again. There is a very urgent need for this issue to finally be taken seriously and addressed. The people of Galway deserve much better than this. Their health and their environment must be safeguarded immediately - this illegal situation cannot go on.”
Galway County Council yesterday confirmed that it is very aware of the shortcomings of the sewage treatment plant in Glenamaddy and that it is working to ensure that the long overdue upgrade will take place. In a statement, director of services for water, environment, community, enterprise and economic development unit, Jim Cullen, said: “The council will continue to consult with all the necessary statutory regulatory bodies to develop plans for a much needed upgrade to address the sewage treatment needs of Glenamaddy and while these plans are being developed the council will continue to operate the plant as effectively as possible to minimise any effects on the environment. The council is looking forward to working with Irish Water to ensure the water and wastewater infrastructure in the county and nationally no longer suffers from underinvestment and so ensure plants like Glenamaddy are upgraded in a timely fashion. The public drinking water supply in Glenamaddy is monitored in accordance with the drinking water regulations and is in compliance with the regulations and safe. As An Taisce have informed Galway County Council of their intention to bring High Court proceedings in this matter it would be inappropriate to comment further on the matter at this time but efforts to compile an upgrade design will continue.”
An EPA spokesperson said there has been a delay in the licence application due to a request for further information which it says the Galway County Council has yet to provide. The spokesperson added the EPA has been working with the council to rectify the situation in the course of the application procedure.