'Restore our earth' is the focus of Earth Day 2021, which is celebrated today April 22nd. It is a theme that strikes close to home for those involved in the protection of drinking water sources.
While the latest Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) report indicates that almost half of Irish surface water bodies are in an unsatisfactory ecological condition, there is concrete evidence that change for the better is possible when drinking water providers engage with farmers and others in the local community as part of a collaborative approach.
That example comes from the recent completion of an Integrated Source Protection Plan (ISPP) for Kilcorran Lough, drinking water source for Aughnashalvey GWS in County Monaghan.
The report was prepared by NFGWS Source Protection Officer, Patrick McCabe. As a science student in the Centre for Freshwater and Environment Studies at Dundalk Institute of Technology (DkIT), Patrick had actually taken core samples from Kilcorran in the 2000s. Analysis showed a decline in quality that began in the mid 1960s, slipping from high status to good status and from there to moderate status.
There was nothing to suggest that this downward graph could be turned around. Indeed, a preliminary source protection report completed by DkIT in 2011 recorded elevated phosphorus and chlorophyll a concentrations between 2004-2010. It appeared that it was only a matter of time before the scheme would have to deal with the consequences of eutrophication in its source; periodic dense carpets of algal scum and the taste and odour issues that arise from them.
Rather than accept this as inevitable – and acting on a recommendation contained in the DkIT report – Aughnashalvey GWS implemented a series of source protection measures in its source catchment with the co-operation of the local farming community. Such actions included group discussions relating to raw water quality and agricultural activities, the installation of a solar-powered electric fence around the circumference of the lough to prevent livestock access and reduced water bills to incentivise the elimination of pesticide usage.
Water analysis in the preparation of the ISPP showed that these measures are working and that the lough has returned to ‘good’ status. Indeed, the trend is so promising that Patrick McCabe has informed the board of Aughnashalvey GWS that implementation of measures proposed in the ISPP ‘would contribute to the restoration of the lough to its natural condition (i.e. ‘High’ status)’. He added that, apart from being beneficial from a drinking water treatment perspective, this ‘would also have a significant ecological benefit’.
To find out more about the importance of source protection, visit our dedicated section onsite here.