Westmeath County Council must find a new source of water for the Royal Canal to protect Mullingar’s drinking water, an oral hearing has been told.
The council’s team outlined to An Bord Pleanála on Tuesday May 22 how, since the canal was opened in 1817, its water came from Lough Owel, which also provides drinking water for Mullingar and its environs.
As the closure of 26km of canal this spring because of low water levels showed, the lake can no longer support the domestic and canal supply.
The council was applying directly to An Bord Pleanála for an abstraction order to take up to 9.6m gallons of water a day from Lough Ennell, saying legal agreements and court orders from the 1980s oblige them find another source of water for the canal.
Waterways Ireland (WI ), which is responsible for the canal, is supporting the council’s application. The council would build the scheme and WI will operate it.
The council’s team, including a number of outside experts was led by solicitor Peter McMullin of NJ Downes and Co.
A variety of experts gave evidence of possible impacts on the flora and fauna, and aquatic life in the lake, but concluded with mitigation measures which could minimize damage.
Lough Ennell is classified as a Special Area of Protection under the EC Birds Directive, and a Special Area of Conservation under the Habitats Directive.
WI’s director of technical services Nigel Russell said “An open, working, living canal will enhance the communities is passes through…and maintain a vibrant wildlife corridor”.
Until the spring, the canal had been navigable from Dublin to the Shannon, and unless the Mullingar stretch reopens, businesses like a boat company in Longford will not be able to operate, he said.
However, Inland Fisheries Ireland said the council has not resolved their concerns and they want changes to fish passes to and from the river Brosna, particularly for the brown trout, and a commitment that nothing will be done to jeopardize the Shannon Salmon Restoration Project.
Miller Adrian Carey represented the four millers and hydroelectric sites on the Brosna, where experts agreed there will be a significant reduction in flow if water is taken from the Ennell.
The compulsory purchase of Lilliput Gate in 2010 severed their relationship with the lake, he said, adding that one mill depends on another and an unpredictable or low flow would play havoc with their workings.
He also questioned the council’s figures and those of their experts, RPS Engineering Consultants.
James Ryan of the National Parks and Wildlife Service raised concerns about potential danger to fauna in the wetlands.
The council’s team answered questions from all sides on Wednesday and a decision to grant planning permission or not will follow later.