Friday 14 March 2014

Let's not go swimming?

Irish can be a beautiful language.  This summer Tourism Ireland will not be exhorting French, German and American tourists "in iúl dúinn dul ag snámh i séarach" because that is not inviting our visitors to have a pint of stout and commune with Cuchullain and WB Yeats.  It means rather "Let us go swimming in a sewer" which is likely to be the reality of their experience.  The EPA has today issued a damning report on the quality of waste-water treatment in Ireland.  

In eight, admittedly small, places (Inchigeelagh, Kilmacsimon, Burtonport, Kerrykeel, Roundstone, Omeath, Arthurstown, Ballyhack) it is unfair to damn the quality of water-treatment because ... there ... is ... no ... such ... treatment. The toilets from all these seaside resorts are flushed straight out to sea.  So don't swallow if you go under while surfing or swimming off-shore and give your kids some rubber gloves along with a bucket-and-spade.  The following larger urban places are still not compliant with the 1991 (!) EU directive on secondary (i.e. effective) sewage treatment: Killybegs; Clifden; Youghal; Cobh; Passage West/Monkstown; Ringaskiddy/Crosshaven/Carrigaline; Arklow. While the much longer list of villages with grossly inadequate methods for dealing with their toilet waste reads like a Bord Failte brochure: Ballyvaughan, Clarecastle, Kilkee, Kilrush, Liscannor, Ballycotton, Castletownbere, Castletownshend, Ringaskiddy Village, Timoleague, Whitegate/Aghada, Bundoran, Falcarragh, Kilcar,  Moville,  Ramelton,  St Johnston,  Rush,  Ahascragh, Carraroe, Kinvara, Spiddal, Belmullet, Killala, Ardmore, Dunmore East, Duncannon, Kilmore Quay.

The report shows that we are getting better.  94% of urban waste-water now gets secondary treatment which is three times more than a decade ago.  But "secondary treatment" is often a set of mystical passes masquerading as secondary treatment because only 69% of the secondary treatment plants actually achieved compliance with the EU standards.  Part of this is because the capacity of the plants is not sufficient for the number of houses they serve, which is probably a consequence of moral hazard during the building boom: you could build and sell and profit from lots more houses if you were not obliged to put in the necessary infrastructure. Cleaning up the outfalls will take money, tax-payers money, my money to fix. That's really galling because, on the farm, we deal with our own toilet waste ourselves so are really careful what goes down the U-bend.  The EPA is also uncompromising in its condemnation of management of these plants. According to David Flynn the EPA's Environmental Enforcer "The causes of one in three sewage plant incidents reported to the EPA can be attributed to inadequate management practices by operators."  In other words, the operators are not fit for purpose: that will require elementary education such as they could obtain in my Environment Chemistry course at The Institute.  I could tell them that ferrous sulphate is cheaper than aluminium sulphate as a flocculant but not so good, so it's more cost-effective to spend a little more on your consumables.  A properly qualified Environmental Chemist could teach them a lot more.

The current government is even at this moment rushing through a grandiose and costly plan, not to fix the useless and inadequate plant across the country which is now delivering Cryptosporidium to the drinking water and turds to the beaches, but rather to create a national umbrella body called Irish Water which will replace the water treatment responsibilities of the existing County and Urban District Councils.  Irish Water hasn't opened its doors, let alone the flood-gates, but has already spent €50 million on consultants.  And we can rest assured (or scream with frustration) that not one of the current operatives (one can scarcely call them 'effectives'), which Irish Water are now obliged to take on, will get sacked.  There is a certain irony in the fact that even as the Irish Government is in a tearing hurry to consolidate water into a single MegaCorp, they are dismantling the Health Service Executive back to its regional components after a decade of new structures, additional levels of bureaucracy, and fat, fat salaries for senior managers. There's hope in that EPA is clearly not going to roll-over to let Irish Water scratch its belly.

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