It was very clear that there were huge commercial interests involved in the plan to pump water from Lough Derg to serve Dublin and its hinterland, according to the River Shannon Protection Alliance.
The alliance was formed to campaign against the E450m plan by Dublin City Council to siphon 350 gallons of water daily from Lough Derg and the River Shannon at the northern end of the lake. The proposal would see an eco-park and reservoir being built at Garryhinch on the Offaly / Laois border and would see 1,000 people employed in its construction, with 70 to 100 permanent jobs at the park once the project was complete.
The proposal was discussed over two days by the Oireachtas Committee on the Environment when Bord na Mona made a presentation to the committee on the plan.
“Bord na Móna bussed some of the Oireachtas committee members for a day-out in the beautiful Midland bogs. 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 1,000 construction jobs to build it.
“But beware Bord na Móna 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,” said alliance spokesperson Joc Saunders in a press statement.
He said that the alliance opposed this scheme, not because they sought to deny water to Dublin, but because they believed it was a bad scheme, not just for the Shannon but for Dublin water consumers as well.
“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. That 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,” he said.
Mr Saunders said that the group also believed that the scheme was not the best way to meet the Dublin Region’s needs for water as it was based on “unrealistic Celtic Tiger era forecasts” for demand to increase by 50 per cent by 2040.
“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 per cent 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,” he said.
He warned that if demand turned out to be much less than forecast the cost of water supplied to the Dublin Region will be higher than necessary, and if the scheme were built as a PPP, the State could find itself compensating a private water utility, as is already happening with motorway tolls.
However, Labour Deputy Kevin Humphreys said after the visit that Garryhinch was “an ideal location for a reservoir to provide Dublin with water for the next 70 years”.
He said that Bord na Mona had a “well researched plan that should be brought into the planning process as soon as possible to address the lack of a strategic reserve of water for the Dublin region”.
The project does not have the full support of the Oireachtas committee, with Fianna Fail’s Deputy Timmy Dooley of Clare describing it as “daft and entirely uneconomical”.
Other members questioned the long-tern effect the project would have on the River Shannon’s ecological system.
Meanwhile, Deputy Noel Coonan, vice-chairman of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on the Environment, Culture, Transport and Gaeltacht Affairs, said that he had received assurances at the meeting that Bord na Móna will enter into full and comprehensive discussions with people living in the Lough Derg region in the event that they are chosen to implement plans by Dublin City Council to extract water from Lough Derg.
He commented that, at present, the project was focusing on Garryhinch and Dublin, but he wanted to know what would be the benefits for those living close to Lough Derg.
“There has to be something in this for North Tipperary and the Lough Derg area,” he said.