In an effort to preserve water levels in Lough Owel because of the very dry spring, Waterways Ireland has closed the Royal Canal for navigation for the immediate future.
Water levels in the summit section of the canal are down by as much as one foot (300mm ) and so to be able to keep the level of abstraction required by Westmeath County Council to maintain drinking water supplies, Waterways Ireland has “prudently” sacrificed canal navigation for this period.
This was revealed this week in reply to queries from Cllrs Mick Dollard and Aidan Davitt from David Hogan, director of services at Westmeath County Council.
“After the very dry spring, the water level in Lough Owel is 120mm below the 30-year average level for this time of year, and so Waterways Ireland are prudently not over-extracting from this source,” said Mr Hogan.
He explained that a recent leak in the canal near Ballynacarrigy had compounded this decision, but that this leak had been swiftly repaired, and was no longer a problem.
“We’re hopeful with the recent wet weather and the Ballynacarrigy section now repaired, the water levels in the summit section of the canal will quickly recover,” he added.
At the moment, the daily yield of water from Lough Owel is 13 million gallons (60,000 cubic metres ), five million for drinking water, five million for the canal (via the supply ), and a further three million for the fish farm in Cullion.
These levels were agreed with CIE - the then owner of the canal - in 1985, and made allowance for a further three million gallons of drinking water to be taken safely to facilitate future demand.
However, after the recent renovation and re-opening of the Royal Canal, Westmeath County Council noticed in the summer of 2000 that levels in Lough Owel got perilously close to the lowest limit allowed, and a proposal was put forward to supply the canal in the future exclusively from Lough Ennell, via a 2km route from Ladestown shore to Belmont bridge, just off the Athlone road.
An environment impact statement on this was presented to the council in September 2011, but unsurprisingly progress on this has been shelved recently.
Lough Owel provides up to 60 per cent of Westmeath’s domestic water requirements, with the remainder coming from the Shannon in Athlone, Lough Lene at Collinstown, and a tiny fraction from group water schemes.
Lough Owel supplies the summit level - or highest section - of the Royal Canal from Killucan in the east to Coolnahay on the western side of Mullingar.