35 GWSs involved in ambitious NFGWS biodiversity & climate project

Over the summer months, NFGWS biodiversity and climate change officers have been busy meeting with group water schemes (GWSs) that are participating in a new project, funded by the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage (DHLGH).

A total of 35 GWSs are participating in the project, which will investigate the potential for the GWS sector to provide leadership at a local level in enhancing biodiversity and tackling climate change. The project team has put together a three year plan, which will pilot a range of measures and link closely to the ongoing NFGWS integrated source project planning (ISPP) projects.

Following the completion by each GWS of a detailed questionnaire aimed at establishing a baseline of biodiversity and climate action measures currently in place, the project team has been visiting schemes in person to discuss potential actions. Seven site visits have been completed to date, with more planned over the remainder of 2022.

NFGWS development & climate officer, Róisín Dowd Smith, meeting with Glinsk Creggs GWS manager, Shane Curley, in Galway.

Utilising frameworks

Planned strategies and measures are in keeping with the NFGWS framework documents on biodiversity enhancement and climate action within the GWS sector, which were published last year. The project has recently secured funding from the Local Authority Waters Programme’s (LAWPRO) Community Development Fund to be put towards the creation of 30 biodiversity plans for participating GWSs. In June, the NFGWS also made a submission to the ongoing Citizen's Assembly on Enhancing Biodiversity through Community-Owned Water Supplies, which can be read in full here.

Following on from research commenced in late 2020, The NFGWS, An Fóram Uisce, and the Centre for Freshwater and Environmental Studies at Dundalk Institute (DkIT) are undertaking research to assess water demand trends and consumer attitudes to water and water conservation. It is hoped this will help guide in the evaluation of the socio-economic values associated with water and water conservation across GWS, which can also inform legislative, policy and management changes in the water sector by determining the success or otherwise of various measures that have been introduced in the past, such as the installation of meters, usage-based billing etc. The learnings from this project will be key to understanding attitudes to water usage and how the participating schemes can further promote best practice in this area.

As part of the project, the NFGWS is also developing guidance for GWS boards/committees and staff on water demand management. An introductory GWS board/committee training course on biodiversity enhancement and climate action is also currently in development and is hoped to be rolled out before the end of the year.

Variety of measures

Eglish & Drumcullen (Rath) GWS was the ideal venue for the project’s first open day, which was held earlier this year, on 1st April. The Offaly group water scheme showcased a range of biodiversity and climate action measures it has recently implemented, including a solar PV array that was installed in late 2019.

There were 19 people in attendance at the event, including representatives from Offaly County Council and a number of personnel from other group water schemes nationwide that were interested in finding out more about the GWS’s initiatives. A contractor has since been appointed been appointed for the installation of solar panels on Caherleske Coolagh GWS in County Kilkenny. It will act as a demonstrator site for other similarly sized GWSs and for GWSs in the southeast of the country.

Energy audits were published for Kilmaley Inagh GWS, County Clare, and Blackstairs GWS, County Wicklow, earlier this year; audits will be completed for the rest of the GWSs in the project over the coming period. GWSs participating the NFGWS ISPP and mitigation actions project have been implementing a number of measures that will bring about co-benefits for the protection of water quality, enhancement of biodiversity and climate action. The creation of smart buffer zones provides habitat for wildlife and food for pollinators, while awareness initiatives such as ‘I’ve planted a tree and my garden is pesticide free’ have captured the publication imagination.

Collaboration

Much like the recent NFGWS source protection pilot project, this current project has adapted a multi-stakeholder approach by engaging other like-minded organisations wherever possible. The project team has been working closely with An Fóram Uisce, LAWPRO, the National Biodiversity Data Centre (NBDC), DkIT, Sligo IT, North Tipperary Development Company, Trees on the Land and a number of expert consultants. It is hoped that more collaboration opportunities will be utilised over the lifetime of the initiative.