Seanad Éireann - Volume 194 - 25 February, 2009
Water and Sewerage Schemes.
Senator Cecilia Keaveney Senator Cecilia Keaveney
Senator Cecilia Keaveney: I thank the Cathaoirleach for choosing this Adjournment matter. It is important not only in the context of the economic climate we are in but also in the context of the environment. We do not want to have to pay money to Brussels unnecessarily for having broken EU directives. It is a win-win scenario if we do not have to do this as it would mean our basic infrastructure was in place.
The Adjournment matter is the need for the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to give an update on how well the towns of Buncrana, Moville, Greencastle, Clonmany and Ballyliffen fulfil European standards on waste water and the processes in place between the local authorities and his Department to ensure such regulation compliance. I thank the Minister of State, Deputy Michael Kitt, for coming to the House to provide a response on the issue.
We all know any recovery in the quality of Irish water in recent years can be attributed to the fact that Europe is watching us and there is European environmental legislation. As a result of this legislation, approximately 70% of waste water currently receives secondary treatment, up from 29% in 2001. Although this is significant progress, the latest information from the Environmental Protection Agency’s office of environmental enforcement suggests that almost two thirds of secondary waste water treatment plants failed to comply with one or more of the required standards during the most recent reporting period.
On 13 January 2004, the European Commission acted against eight member states in a programme on water policy. At that point in 2004, the Commission took legal action against Ireland for non-compliance with EU laws on water quality. It had sent written warnings to Ireland relating to the protection and designation of shellfish waters. There are 14 shellfish waters under the directive.
I could go into the nitty gritty but the bottom line is that by September 2008, Letterkenny unfortunately made headlines because it was in breach of an EU directive on the provision of waste water treatment in urban environments. The European Court of Justice found against Ireland and threatened heavy fines under the 1991 urban waste water treatment directive. At this time I am unsure of exactly where that process lies.
Buncrana is expanding and gained much under the Celtic tiger. Its Celtic tiger began early with Fruit of the Loom. The amount of construction at that time ensured a relatively small town became very robust, yet the treatment works have not expanded to deal with the much bigger town. In Clonmany and especially Ballyliffen we now have a number of high quality hotels added to the residential and holiday home market but there is no scheme at all. It seems that everybody is waiting for another hotel development to facilitate or supply the town sewerage scheme. I am not sure it is as feasible in the current climate as it was even six months or a year ago, so I am reluctant to think we should look to the private sector to provide solutions for waste management.
I am from Moville and I see the Moville and Greencastle area as one with poor drinking water facilities which require upgrading. The water is of good quality but the system must be upgraded. There is no sewage treatment so it does not matter whether the secondary plants are up to the right standard. We do not have a treatment plant so the sewage in my area goes raw into the Foyle. People try to explain that tertiary treatment would still leave the Foyle very polluted. Derry only had primary treatment until very recently and it is not tertiary even at this stage.
We had an environmental impact statement, EIS, submitted to An Bord Pleanála in May 2007, although it was not a requirement of the time because of the population it would serve. By 3 September, An Bord Pleanála had returned it because an EIS was not required. We put in place the Planning and Development (Strategic Infrastructure) Act and the board then determined that an EIS was required. It was a year before the EIS was sent in for the second time and the matter has been ongoing for a considerable period.
There is always a discussion and row on the location of a sewerage scheme and it is no different in my area. The process must come to an end at some point. I would like the Minister of State to indicate the relevant dates if possible. Dates were set regarding towns with a populations greater than 15,000, between 10,000 and 15,000, greater than 5,000, greater than 1,500 and under 5,000, and under 1,500. Dates were given by Europe as to when we were supposed to comply with various water directives. I could list out the different types of directive.
Will the Minister of State help me to ensure our basic infrastructural needs are addressed sooner rather than later? It is more than 30 years since my father first took on the issue of trying to get a basic sewerage scheme for our area. Many mistakes were made at that time and probably many have been made since then, but processes that have commenced must be brought to a conclusion. We need such facilities not only for residential development but to facilitate the opportunity for commercial developments. We want businesses to invest in these towns. They are in the heart of a white fleet area where there are opportunities in the marine sector for product development and for the addition of quality to our products. All these developments rely on the existence of basic water and sewerage infrastructure.
What is the current position on the provision of sewerage schemes to service Buncrana, Moville, Greencastle, Clonmany and Ballyliffen? Will the Minister of State give a guarantee that the procedures involved will be brought to a conclusion as soon as possible?
Deputy Michael P. Kitt Deputy Michael P. Kitt
Deputy Michael P. Kitt: I thank the Senator for this opportunity to clarify the position regarding waste water facilities and the standards applicable to urban waste water discharges from the towns and villages she mentioned. The urban waste water treatment directive dictates specific standards of treatment for municipal waste water discharges. The level of treatment depends on the size of the population and the type of water body to which the waste water is being discharged.
Local authorities, under the general supervision of the Environmental Protection Agency, are responsible for ensuring that urban waste water receives adequate treatment prior to discharge to the aquatic environment. My Department provides funding to local authorities under the water services investment programme for the installation of waste water collection and treatment facilities that are needed for statutory compliance or other priority reasons.
As part of its remit in this area, the EPA audits local authority compliance with the regulatory requirements and publishes regular reports detailing waste water treatment arrangements for all agglomerations with populations over 500. The last such report, covering 2004 and 2005, was published in 2007 and is available in the Oireachtas Library. In addition, as part of the compliance regime, the EPA licences local authority waste water discharges and is currently dealing with a number of such licence applications from Donegal County Council.
That council’s proposals to provide an upgraded waste water collection network and a new treatment plant to serve Moville and Greencastle have been included for funding in my Department’s water services investment programme which covers the period 2007 to 2009. Planning on the scheme is being advanced by the council and my Department is awaiting submission of a preliminary report for approval.
In May 2008, my Department approved the council’s brief for the appointment of consultants to prepare a preliminary report for waste water infrastructure for a number of locations, including Buncrana. The Buncrana scheme is also included for funding in the current investment programme. The council will submit the preliminary report in due course to my Department for approval.
Ballyliffen and Clonmany were part of a wider proposal for sewerage facilities to service a large number of towns and villages in the northern part of County Donegal. It was ranked as the lowest priority in the most recent assessment of water services needs produced by Donegal County Council. The assessment of needs informed the selection of new schemes under the current water services investment programme. Because of the low priority afforded to the proposal, of which Ballyliffen and Clonmany were components, regrettably, it was not possible to include it in the programme. The council will have an opportunity to review the priority of these schemes when the next assessment of needs is being undertaken. I take on board the questions raised by the Senator.
Senator Cecilia Keaveney Senator Cecilia Keaveney
Senator Cecilia Keaveney: What I find scary in the Minister of State’s reply is the sentence, “Planning on the scheme has been advanced by the council and my Department is awaiting submission of a preliminary report for approval”. I know that is the lingo used. My difficulty with it is that this scheme has been under planning for a considerable period. Planning is not leading to the provision of a sewerage scheme and in the towns concerned raw sewage is ending up in the River Foyle, which is totally unacceptable.
In regard to Clonmany and Ballyliffen, does the Minister of State have any idea as to when the next assessment of needs will be undertaken? Is it undertaken annually, biannually or less frequently than that? I appreciate he might not have that information to hand.
Deputy Michael P. Kitt Deputy Michael P. Kitt
Deputy Michael P. Kitt: I do not have the answer to that question, but I understand it is a matter for Donegal County Council to review the priority of these schemes.
The Seanad adjourned at 8.25 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Thursday, 26 February 2009.
Seanad Éireann 194 Water and Sewerage Schemes.