5-Year Review: 2000 - 2005. Peadar O’Mealoin.
The purpose of this short article
is to give a brief review of the Carra Mask Corrib Water Protection
Group (CMCWPG) which has now been in existence for the past five years.
The five-year period from 2000 - 2005 has seen accelerated and diverse
change in the scale of the challenges and hazards confronting our natural
environment. Prosperity and development, which has brought many welcome
benefits, has impacted enormously on the environment. This has been
more evident with respect to water quality than in any other area of
the natural environment. It is water quality, which is at the heart
of the work of the Carra Mask Corrib Water Protection Group. The continuing
deterioration of our lakes and rivers confirms the scale of the threat
and the failure of initiatives to reverse the decline. The necessity
for a strong independent watchdog on water quality issues, representing
the Anglers on the Western Lakes has never been of such importance.
It is especially important in the context of the imminent restructuring
of the Inland Fisheries Sector in Ireland, the abolition of the Regional
Fisheries Boards and the proposals to transfer their water protection
role to Local Authorities, as part of this process. Such proposals do
not inspire confidence in the angling community given the somewhat less
than exemplary record of many local authorities with regard to water
and environmental protection. The scale and diversity of the various
sources of nutrient pollution of our waterways is overwhelming; its
sources are among others, agricultural, urban, and industrial. Afforestation,
residential effluent, and various other forms of intensive land use
also cause it. Its effects are to be seen in cases of run-off and overflow
of cattle and pig slurry, untreated sewage outflows to rivers and lakes,
and emissions of wastes and pollutants from intensive production enterprises.
The escalating scale of the damage being caused vindicates the vision
and vigilance of those who established the Carra Mask Corrib Water Protection
Group in 1999. It also vindicates the steadfastness of the anglers,
angling clubs and federations who have supported the group in difficult
times when it was accused of exaggeration, scaremongering and institutionalised
denial of the existence of any problems.
“The price of freedom is eternal vigilance”;
those were the immortal words of Edmund Burke in the Irish Parliament
prior to its abolition, at the end of the 18th century, it is also very
relevant in our time as the price of a clean environment in Ireland
Lest anyone be in doubt the Western Lakes are bordering on an alarming
state of eutrophication. Hardly a stone or a shoreline anywhere on these
great waters remains without a film of slime or dark green algae from
the aforementioned combination of polluting nutrients. It places them
in imminent danger of falling into the high-risk category in which fish
kills can occur in warm dry summer weather under low water conditions.
It also makes them vulnerable to occasional or accidental nutrient escapes,
which would otherwise be survivable. Now that the Carra Mask Corrib
Water Protection Group is on a more sound footing, it is to be hoped
that the next five years will prove somewhat more auspicious in reversing
the deterioration in water quality and in sustaining the work of this
group, its roles, its composition, and its financial viability.
This article now looks at the Carra Mask Corrib Water Protection Group,
and its work over the past five years, its achievements, and the ongoing
issues and challenges which must be addressed in the future.
The “Y2K Bug“.
Looking back today to the end of 1999, before the dawn of the new millenium
in 2000, we may recollect great controversy and concern about the rather
vague threat of the “Y2K Bug” to computer software and networks
in business and banking. Elaborate precautions were put in place to
combat it; and fortunately it never materialised. Remarkably though,
much better known ‘bugs’ such as E Coli, Cryptosporidium
and their ilk seem to have got an “easy run” at the time
and since. They don’t feature very often on Sky News, CNN or sensation
stirring front pages. Yet it is arguable that they pose an even greater
threat to our wellbeing than the “Y2K Bug” ever did. Regrettably,
these ‘bugs’ are still with us and pose a great threat in
our waterways and in our drinking water.
While the primary concern of the group has been the protection of water
quality for angling, its work has also benefited the wider community
in raising public awareness about the need for protection of our waters.
A worrying realisation has been growing within the group and in the
angling community as a whole that the Western Lakes, which supply the
water we drink, are highly vulnerable indeed. Consumption of the water
is often only possible with the aid of considerable purification and
sterilisation in water treatment plants. Fish stocks have declined,
their feeding and breeding patterns have altered and some species such
as the Pearl Mussel have completely vacated former habitat due to deterioration
of water quality. This has been scientifically monitored and reported
upon on the Owenriff river at Oughterard in Co Galway and if these waters
can no longer sustain the indigenous aquatic and fish life as they have
done for generations how then can they be regarded as fit for human
consumption? But even with the less than reassuring knowledge of the
addition of chemical additives such as Chlorine and Sodium Hypochlorite
to purify our drinking water how can we be complacent for the future?
Successful Initiatives by the Carra Mask Corrib Water Protection Group,
The CMC WPG has participated successfully
in the following important initiatives:
* Collaborating in the preparation of the action brought by the Commission
of the European Community against the Government for the non-implementation
of the EU Nitrates Directive, 1992. This led to a ruling before the
European Court of Justice that Ireland had not implemented the Nitrates
Directive, censure by the court and the Commission and the imposition
of a daily fine until the Directive was successfully implemented.
Nitrates Action Programme.
* Development of a successful Nitrates Action Programme, signed into
force on 12 December 2005 by the Minister for the Environment. This
required under the terms of the Nitrates directive and it had been ‘long
for the best part of 14 years due to the recalcitrance of vested interest
groups in avoidance of the regulatory controls.
* In 2003 the group successfully brought a Circuit Court challenge to
the construction of a Dog Compound on the banks of the Owenriff river
above Oughterard. The development would have contravened the SAC status
of the river and added to the already heavy nutrient loading on its
waters which enter the Corrib just below Oughterard.
Public and Political Action
* The group, in conjunction with local angling clubs, participated in
the hosting of a series of public meetings in Oughterard to highlight
the deterioration of water quality on Lough Corrib and its tributaries
especially the Owenriff River. The group introduced the results of research
work carried out by Dr Evelyn Moorkens on the Pearl Oyster (Margaritifera
margaritifera), on the Owenriff river, which showed that this indigenous
mussel no longer inhabited substantial stretches of its breeding habitat
due to water impurities. Photographic evidence of algal growth and irrefutable
scientific evidence was presented to the meetings and public representatives
present. Large numbers of anglers, members of the public and political
representatives attended. Commitments to major infrastructure improvements
which were obtained have been slow to materialise in concrete improvements
such as sewage treatment upgrades and the curtailment of undesirable
Monitoring of Water Quality.
* In conjunction with the angling clubs and the angling club federations
the CMCWPG maintains a continuous watching brief on the western lakes,
their catchments and tributaries, in relation to water quality, development
and land usage. Representations and observations are made by the group
on an ongoing basis to planning authorities, regulatory agencies and
the media in relation to issues arising which are likely to impact adversely
on water quality in the Western Lakes.
Risk Categorisation of Western
Lakes; under the Water Framework Directive:
* The CMCWPG was to the fore in ensuring that the perilous state of
the wastern lakes was reflected in the assignment of the highest risk
status, i.e. “Seriously at Risk” to Lough’s Carra,
Mask and Corrib in accordance with the risk assessment required under
the Water Framework Directive, (WFD). Consequently these, and other
waters to benefit from “At Risk” designation will be entitled
to the maximum level of protection in the years to come in the Regulatory,
Planning, and Development context. It remains to be seen how far the
protections and controls regarding water quality will be adhered to
but anglers may be assured that the CMCWPG will monitor this closely
and continue to campaign for adherence to best practice in the future.
* The work and high profile established by the group has succeeded in
sending a clear and unequivocal message to the public that the Western
Lakes are in an alarming condition. Publications by Tourism bodies and
Protection Agency can no longer claim that the waters are in a “Pristine
Consolidating the Operations and
Profile of the Group.
* The operations and functioning of the group have been consolidated
by the appointment of a company secretary to work with the Chief Executive
in the day to day work of the group.
Designation of Rivers as SAC’s.
* The CMCWPG was instrumental in the designation of many rivers and
locations in the region as SAC’s which has increased the protection
for these waters.
The Challenges Ahead
Over the coming years major challenges
lie ahead in order to safeguard water quality. Development of various
types displays all indications of going forward at an increasing pace.
The threats from other sources will continue to require monitoring and
one cannot predict what surprises await the anglers in the pollution
However the greatest challenge is probably for the angling community
to maintain its unity and cohesion in the years to come. The Carra Mask
Corrib Water Protection Group will not be found wanting in pursuing
the aims of those anglers.
Heritage Day 12 September 2005
The Heritage Council of Ireland
holds a national water heritage day each year. This year’s was
held on September the 12th. The main purpose of the day is to raise
awareness and highlight the importance of water as part of our heritage
to the general public. Regional events are hosted in each county and
they focus on the heritage aspects of water. All aspects of water are
celebrated from its importance in providing wildlife and aquatic habitats,
to folklore, industrial heritage and archaeology. Example of events
types might be; an ecological field trip on a river -bank, an exhibition
on local holy wells, a talk on traditional boats of the area, etc.
Again this year the Carra Mask Corrib
Water Protection group decided to participate and help promote the importance
of water to the public at large. The group wanted to ensure that the
public understood the major threats to their water systems and to highlight
the increasing seriousness of pollution levels in the great western
On Friday September the 9th , the
group in association with the Heritage Officer, Galway County Council
organised a public awareness day on water heritage in Headford, Co Galway.
The event consisted of a display stand with child face painting outside
the local supermarket and with a talk by Dr. Aoife Thorton, Galway County
Council given in the local primary schools. Their were public lectures
in a local hotel by the staff of the Western Regional Fisheries Board
and by the CEO of the Water Protection Group and by the Western Mussel
|The Group organised display stands at four
venues on Water Heritage Day as follows:
1. Tesco Shopping Centre, Castlebar, Mayo
2. Eyre Square shopping Centre, Galway
3. Galway Shopping Centre, Headford road, Galway
4. Westside Shopping Centre, Galway.
Group members were assisted by local
anglers and manned the stands throughout the day. The stands contained
photographic displays of the decline of water quality in the great western
lakes. Much interest was expressed by the younger generation of shoppers,
with a somewhat lesser interest by the older generation. The members
manning the stands answered questions, distributed literature and recorder
particulars of complaints about water quality.
The events were well publicised
on local radio and in the local press and were well attended by the
The main areas of concern to emerge
from the water heritage day were:
The obvious loss of our once pristine
water quality due to pollution, apathy and the greed of a few, evidence
of this was provided by the Groups pictorial display.
The superb angling, social and recreational
resource that these lakes have afforded for generations now stand threatened
as never before.
Alarming and extensive algae blooms,
which starve vulnerable fish populations of oxygen at critical times
of the year, mainly in summer, are now frequently observed on the great
western lakes and their tributary rivers.