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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 today.
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, 2000-2005.

The CMC WPG has participated successfully in the following important initiatives:

Nitrates Directive.
* 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 programme was
required under the terms of the Nitrates directive and it had been ‘long fingered
for the best part of 14 years due to the recalcitrance of vested interest groups in avoidance of the regulatory controls.

Dog Compound
* 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 afforestation practices.

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.

Public Awareness.
* 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 the Environmental
Protection Agency can no longer claim that the waters are in a “Pristine Conditions”.

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 stakes.
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.

Water 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 lakes.

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 Control Group.


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 passing public.

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.


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