Beware Bord na Móna and Dublin City Council bearing gifts – River Shannon Protection Alliance

Bord na Móna recently addressed the Oireachtas environment, transport, culture and Gaeltacht committee. The next day they bussed some of its members with media in attendance for a day out in the beautiful Midland bogs. They were taking advantage of slow news in the silly season to publicise and promote Dublin City Council’s scheme to pump water from the Shannon near Portumna to the Dublin Region via Garryhinch cut-away bog near Portarlington. They promised gifts for everyone – 350 million litres of water a day for the Dublin Region and places along the way; a lake for water sports with a nature reserve for the Midlands; and 1000 construction jobs to build it.

But beware Bord na Móna and Dublin City Council bearing gifts – this massive scheme is being driven by huge commercial interests. Chief executive Gabriel D’Arcy let the cat out of the bag – with turf running out he plans to transform Bord na Móna into a highly profitable water utility, selling the water they take from the Shannon to consumers in the East. They are already in discussion with consultants appointed by the Minister of the Environment about setting up a national water board to run the entire country’s water supply.

We in the River Shannon Protection Alliance oppose this scheme – not because we seek selfishly to deny water to our fellow citizens in Dublin, but because we believe it is a bad scheme, not just for the Shannon but for Dublin water consumers as well.

First, we do not believe assurances that water extraction on this scale will not damage the Shannon system. The plan is to pump at the maximum rate for 10 months of the year and at a lower rate for two, not just at periods of high flow. At low flow the reduced flow-rate through Lough Derg will threaten water quality, and to maintain levels and flows in the lower Shannon, there will be pressure to open sluices higher up, reducing water levels and flows in the middle and upper Shannon, and threatening navigation.

This is why we call on public representatives to demand an independent review of the impact of the scheme on the ecology and hydrology of the entire system, paid for at arms length by the promoters of the scheme, but independent of them. An Environmental Impact Statement prepared by consultants in the pockets of the promoters cannot be trusted to be objective.

Second, we believe that this scheme is not the best way to meet the Dublin Region’s needs for water. It is based on unrealistic Celtic Tiger era forecasts for demand to increase by 50% by 2040. Recent figures show that demand is static or falling. This will not change anytime soon because of our State’s economic woes. The planned introduction of water metering and charging will reduce demand, as it has elsewhere. And changes to planning regulations to promote rain water harvesting would further reduce demand for treated water.

Around 30% of expensively treated water is wasted by leaks at present. A concerted programme to reduce leakage to European best practice levels could save 100 million litres per day – as well as providing much needed employment.

If demand turns out to be much less than forecast the cost of water supplied to the Dublin Region will be higher than necessary. Dublin consumers will pay a high water charge unless subsidised by consumers elsewhere. If the scheme is built as a PPP, the State could find itself compensating a private water utility, as is already happening with motorway tolls.

The scheme is being presented as the only way to supply the Dublin Region with enough water. But it is simply not true that there is no alternative to the Shannon. 100 million litres per day is available from groundwater in the Fingal-Meath aquifer. There are great opportunities to reuse water, as is done in other cities. For instance, the output from the Ringsend treatment works could be injected at Leixlip to maintain water levels below the weir while extracting up to an additional 100 million litres per day from the Liffey above it.

Such incremental alternatives should be explored before committing to a risky big bang scheme, in which not one drop of water will be provided until the entire cost has been incurred.

This is why we call on public representatives to demand an independent review of the demand assumptions underlying the scheme, and alternative ways to meet realistic demand. And such a review must be genuinely independent – consultants already identified with the scheme cannot be seen as independent.

So what of the gifts being promised?

  • Surely 350 million unnecessary litres of expensive water per day are not so much a gift as an economic millstone.
  • Surely it would be madness to risk the existing natural heritage, recreational and tourism value of the Shannon and its lakes in exchange for a new man-made lake and a nature reserve just a few miles away in the Midlands.
  • Surely it would make more sense to create 1000 jobs in a concerted programme to fix leaks in Dublin before pumping Shannon water there to leak into the ground.

(Previous plans to extract the water from Lough Ree were abandoned after much protest, see video below)

Speak Your Mind

Tell us what you're thinking...
and oh, if you want a pic to show with your comment, go get a gravatar!

You must be logged in to post a comment.