There are 32 locations in Kerry without sewerage treatment plants, writes Anne Lucey.
It has been a wet summer in Kerry this year — in more ways than one. Water issues, and particularly wastewater issues, resulting in stalled planning permissions and threats to the environment have come to a head in the county.
Swimming was banned at a number of beaches and harbours after dangerous e.coli was washed into the sea and estuaries after heavy rainfall, most likely from septic tanks and slurry tanks.
Large 600m water supply pipes twice burst in Farranfore village on the N22, blocking traffic and ensuring half the county and even parts of Cork ran dry for a day.
A bypass for Farranfore ensuring the very heavy trucks and traffic on the N22 would not go through the village has been stalled since 2003.
But the issue of villages without any sewerage treatment facilities, from Portmagee on the coast to Scartaglin, is now a serious and urgent issue, according to management and councillors at Kerry County Council.
Archive video: Luke Skywalker pours pints in Portmagee, Kerry
Sewerage treatment facilities are at capacity in many areas or there are no treatment plants at all.
Kerry County Council is no longer in control of where new treatment plants are located, or if they are funded, as Irish Water is the decision maker.
The capital plans by Irish Water go to the Minister for Housing and Local Government, Eoghan Murphy, and from the minister to the independent Commission for Regulation of Utilities (CRU). The Environmental Protection Agency and Inland Fisheries also have a say.
Kerry County Council has made several submissions and “numerous attempts” to solve the issue of unsewered villages, said John Breen, the council’s director of water services, at a meeting in Kerry recently where councillors demanded urgent action for villages like Caherdaniel and Portmagee, made famous recently as a result of its Star Wars connections.
The population in both villages rockets during the summer, but developments have been halted because there is no basic wastewater infrastructure.
Calls for funding for wetlands and other systems have gone unanswered.
There are 32 villages in Kerry without sewerage treatment, according to the submission from the local authority to the new capital plan by Irish Water.
“Immediate priorities include Beaufort, Scartaglin, Caherdaniel and Currow,” said the council.
The cost for Scartaglin alone would be in the region of €3.5m.
In addition, “a major investment is urgently required for wastewater treatment plants with around 17 small plants effectively requiring total replacement in order to meet minimum regulatory standards”, the council has told Irish Water.
“For many years these plants have been completely inadequate, overloaded or outdated and are beyond upgrading,” said the council.
Among these are Gneeveguilla near Killarney and Kilgarvan, both located in freshwater pearl mussel habitats.
The “bundling” system in the west Kerry gaeltacht of Ballydavid, Ballyferriter, and other villages needs urgent replacing to protect the marine environment, it was noted.
But the second consultation phase of the draft Irish Water capital investment plan (CIP) 2020 to 2024, published at the end of July on the CRU website, proposes only 11 upgrades of wastewater treatment plants for Kerry, with Kenmare flagged as the only new plant.
The 11 proposals for Kerry include the upgrading of existing plants at Abbeydorney, Ardfert, Ballyduff, Castlegregory, Castlemaine, Fenit, Glenbeigh, and Rathmore along with the towns of Kenmare, Killarney, and Killorglin.
Below groundwork on pipes and overflow issues is approved for a number of places such as Killarney where strom overflow into the lakes of Killarney has become an issue.
Local councillor Michael Cahill is seeking a meeting with the minister, Mr Murphy, in relation to works needed at Portmagee, Cromane, and Beaufort.
But according to sources, there is little hope of treatment plants for these areas until after 2024.
Despite many of the projects failing to get funding, the allocation to the five-year Irish Water CIP is set to be slashed by the CRU.
“The Irish Water CIP has proposed a total of €5,257m capital expenditure for the period 2020–2024. Based on the submission by Irish Water, the CRU proposes to allow €5,163m, a net cut of €94m,” said the commission.
For its part, Irish Water has said that in 2018, in accordance with legislation, it submitted a strategic funding plan to Mr Murphy which sets out the capital and operating expenditure required to deliver its strategic objectives and implement national water services policy.
The CRU recently opened a public consultation on its initial assessment of Irish Water’s submission. Full details of this consultation, including Irish Water’s proposed CIP, are available on the commission’s website, cru.ie.
The CRU will make a final decision on Irish Water’s submission in the autumn.
Meanwhile, villages like Portmagee will have to wait a few years more before their wastewater is treated.