Irish Water (IW) is under scrutiny once again following a stream of complaints about sewage overflowing in Shannon last year.
A new “damning” report about environmental breaches concerning the Shannon Wastewater Treatment Plant and foul network has prompted renewed pressure on government to sanction an estimated €24 million for a major upgrade of the Shannon plant and foul network.
The 2015 Annual Environmental Report for the Shannon Wastewater Treatment Plant outlined a steady flow of complaints about sewage overflows from January 16, 2015 to December 31 last.
They included 11 complaints about sewage overflowing from a manhole, six into gardens, one onto a street and one through a wall. All the complaints related to blocked sewers, which required action to unblock manholes.
In the case of sewage overflowing into one garden on January 29 last, a CCTV survey was undertaken and repair was scheduled in the first quarter of this year.
One of 28 environmental complaints concerning blocks sewers in the Shannon Foul Network stated “sewer blocked and staff fallen ill”.
However, in a statement to The Clare Champion, IW stated the incident was originally alerted to the authority as ‘odour from a sewer’. IW stated when it looked into the matter, it determined the source as a third party discharge to surface water. Clare County Council then led the investigation of this issue as the environment section has responsibility in this area.
“Technically, as the source of the odour was not from an Irish Water facility, the complaint should not have been recorded in the AER but all recorded complaints that we receive from the public are included in the interest of transparency,” said IW.
The Annual Environmental Report for the Shannon plant revealed there were 14 samples non-compliant with emission limit values in relation to BOD (8), COD (4) and Suspended Solids (2).
Chemical Oxygen Demand (COD) is the total measurement of all chemicals (organics and inorganics) in the water/wastewater. BOD is a measure of the amount of oxygen required for the bacteria to degrade the organic components present in water/wastewater. The mass of dried solids remaining on the filter is called total suspended solids (TSS) or nonfiltrable residue.
There were also five incidents involving an uncontrolled release, as a result of a break in the rising main sewer due to a damaged sewer pipe. Repair works were undertaken and the Minister for Agriculture Food and Marine was contacted.
It outlined there is a planned upgrade to manage these non-compliances. The results also do not meet the requirements of the Urban Waste Water Treatment regulations 2001 to 2010.
IW has recently announced an investment of more than €3 million in improvement works at the wastewater treatment plant in Shannon and also on a sewer network project, which involves cleaning and surveying the sewers, the sampling of industrial and commercial discharges and an analysis of the wider wastewater network in the area.
This will enable the authority to take a strategic approach to the overall management of wastewater in the Shannon area and identify the optimum treatment options for investment in infrastructure.
IW has pledged to start a Shannon Town Foul Network Survey, costing more than €3m, to evaluate the condition of the sewer network. It has stated the survey team will also, where needed, clean sewers to remove any potential blockages that could damage the network.
Over the last two years, IW has carried out a number of other projects in Shannon to ensure the network is operating more efficiently. These include the construction of a 2km pipeline to replace a collapsed rising main and the upgrade of a number of pumping stations in late 2014.
According to IW, this was reflected in the 2015 AER, which noted an improvement compared to the previous year.
Councillor Gerry Flynn described the latest report as “damning” and claimed he is “blue in the face” from highlighting issues concerning the wastewater treatment plant with various agencies, including IW.
Criticising the establishment of IW, Councillor Flynn said the water utility should never have been established, as the local authority was doing a relatively good job and could have done even better if they were provided with adequate funding.
“I can’t talk to Clare County Council directly about problems relating to the Shannon Wastewater Treatment Plant under the new system, even though council employees are now working for IW.
“The wastewater section of the council was one of the better departments. Staff knew the infrastructure and how to address it. The reason the treatment plant fell into disrepair was a lack of proper investment,” he said.
Stating the current treatment plant and foul network is not fit for purpose, the independent councillor stressed spending €3m would not solve the ongoing problems. He called on IW to approve a major upgrading of the sewage treatment plant, costing an estimated €24m.
Senator Tony Mulcahy said the difficulty with the foul sewer network may not be directly related to the operation of the wastewater treatment plant, as the incorrect disposal of items such as baby wipes is one of the causes of sewer blockages.
Acknowledging that a lot of sewer manholes are located in the back gardens of residents’ homes, Senator Mulcahy agreed that the best long-term solution is a major upgrade of the wastewater treatment plant. However, he pointed out there are up to 356 towns in the country also looking to upgrade their sewage treatment plant.
While Senator Mulcahy doesn’t agree with the way IW was set up or subsequently managed, he pointed out that one of the purposes of setting up the water utility was to use the income generated by water charges to borrow off the government’s balance sheet for major infrastructural projects, such as the Shannon Treatment Plant.
Councillor PJ Ryan said one of the problems is that domestic and commercial sewage are getting mixed together, when they should be directed to a separate chamber. He said he understood that IW had employed contractors to provide a new sewer line from the Smithstown Industrial Estate to the sewage treatment plant.