A Cork councillor has said that ongoing Lower Harbour Main Drainage Project works ‘'will cast a different light' on Cobh's releasing of raw sewage into Cork Harbour.
It comes after a recently published Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) report revealed that Cobh is one of two of the largest towns releasing raw sewage into the environment every day.
There are a total of 35 towns and villages in Ireland where raw sewage is released each day, the largest of these being Cobh and Arklow with a combined population equivalent to 32,000.
The EPA is critical of Irish Water in its analysis of urban waste water treatment last year, and said that treatment at 19 of Ireland’s 172 large towns and cities, including Cork and Dublin, failed to meet standards set to prevent pollution.
The report identified 13 areas in Cork, Kerry and Laois where improvements are needed to protect globally endangered freshwater pearl mussels.
There are a total of 48 areas where wastewater is the main significant threat to inland and coastal waters at risk of pollution, down from 57 areas the previous year.
The report also highlights that delays in upgrading treatment systems around the country are prolonging risks to the environment and public health.
Irish Water has admitted progress has been “slower than anticipated” but said that “real and tangible progress” is also being made.
Green Party Councillor Alan O’Connor said that it was “only right that a light was shined on the issue” but that the people of Cobh have been aware of the situation for a long time with the ongoing Lower Harbour Main Drainage Project which will “ultimately mean Cobh will no longer be discharging its wastewater untreated into the harbour”.
Cllr O’Connor said that taking into account the bigger picture, “historically Ireland has not treated its environment particularly well” and that managing a 33% increase in Cork’s population forecast for 2040 while maintaining a healthy environment “will be challenging”.
“The population of the county of Cork is due to go up from about 320,000 now to 430,000 plus by 2040 so that’s a 33% increase. How do we deal with this massive increase in population, and most of it will be focused in the harbour area in that metropolitan area, while still maintaining a healthy environment? All the metrics are bad basically in our surface water and in our EU protected habitats,” he said.
“It’s right that the EPA are monitoring the situation but I do know Irish Water are investing in our infrastructure as they’ve shown with the Shanbally treatment plant works which hopefully will be completed by the end of 2021,” he said.
The Sustainable Water Network (SWAN) called on the government to improve Ireland’s waste water infrastructure with coordinator, Sinéad O’Brien, saying that the fact that raw sewage is still being discharged into rivers, lakes and the sea “is completely unacceptable”.
In response to Ms O’Brien’s comments, Fine Gael councillor Anthony Barry said that drainage works due to be completed in late 2021 “will cast a different light on the situation”.
“We treated the harbour like a dumping ground for many years and huge efforts have gone in over the last 10 or 12 years and presently, and I think it’s working,” he said.
Fine Gael Councillor Sinéad Sheppard said that people want a clean harbour for the town that is steeped in maritime history and that the action being taken will “transform the harbour”, saying that the 2022 EPA report “will tell a very different story for Cork Harbour”.
“We’re very grateful to be living next to the water and we utilise that amenity so much and we want to make sure that it is clean for people to use and want it to be the best amenity it can be,” she said.
In a statement, Irish Water’s managing director Niall Gleeson said: “We are making real and tangible progress working with local communities to deliver critical infrastructure which has suffered from years of historic underinvestment.
“Since 2014 we have made considerable progress in removing 130 areas from the priority area list, and have plans for the majority of the remaining 113 areas. We are always striving to prioritise the best possible service improvements, while maximising value-for-money with funding available,” he said.
He said that delivering new infrastructure where it never existed “presents a range of challenges from competing investment priorities, to community support, to planning consents in addition to land acquisition which can take to up to two years for just one project”.
“Indeed, there is a concerning upward trend in the number of acquisitions subject to CPO orders which remains a last resort.” Mr Gleeson thanked the communities and stakeholders in these areas for their “engagement, feedback and patience during the planning, construction and commissioning of each of these facilities”.