Water pollution - Our water protection is inadequate

The recent decision not to proceed with a badly needed and long-awaited extension of Killarney’s sewerage network seems at best shortsighted and at worst recklessly negligent.

Just six years ago the consequences of an overwhelmed sewerage scheme were all too obvious — and shaming — when there was a dangerous, potentially lethal, cryptosporidium outbreak in Lough Corrib. At that time, most of Galway’s residents had to boil water before consuming it, just as if they were living in a Third World shanty town.

If that lesson was not enough to convince us we must do an awful lot more to protect vital natural resources, the European Court of Justice has pointed to Killarney’s biggest lake, Lough Lein, as an example of our indifference to EU waste water directives, especially in relation to the impact one-off domestic septic tanks can have on water sources.

That Lough Lein is in a national park, and tourism interests are very happy to exploit and celebrate its great natural beauty to attract visitors, suggests that our continued pollution of the lake is at least deeply hypocritical if not downright dishonest. In a world where water becomes ever more precious by the day, it is also profoundly stupid. That the extension of the scheme would cost just €1m seems to make it even more so.

The decision is, however, far too typical of our attitude to environmental protection — we seem to imagine it an optional extra rather than an immediate imperative, something we can deal with when the mood eventually allows.

Unfortunately the Killarney scheme is not the only water treatment scheme in the country that needs to be updated or extended to meet the needs of today. This infrastructure deficit is made even more worrying by the fact that so many local authorities are at best strapped for cash and unlikely to be able to resolve these issues in the immediate or even the medium term from their own resources.

In this context the intention to increase agricultural output so dramatically under the Food Harvest 2020 plan must be managed very carefully to ensure that further intensification of food production does not mean more water pollution.

There have been suggestions that the much anticipated water charges may be deferred next year as the Government will be reluctant to push through another new domestic tax so soon after the property tax. That may be electorally attractive but it will do little to resolve this unavoidable issue, especially as property tax revenues may not cover water services.

These issues — water pollution, one-off septic tanks, more or less insolvent local authorities, opposition to property and water charges, continued defiance of EU environmental directives — paint a picture of a society in denial of the consequences of its actions. Most developed societies have property and water charges or combinations or variations of both. Most are also in a position — and more importantly have the will — to properly protect their environment.

Why do we continue to make it so very hard for ourselves to be in a position to do the right thing?


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