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Funds needed to restore Ballyalla Lake to swimming standard

Substantial funding needs to be secured to help restore Ballyalla Lake as a bathing amenity for Ennis and its surrounding areas, according to local town councillors.
Concern about the rapid deterioration in the water quality of Ballalla Lake, which was once “a jewel in the crown” was expressed by councillors at an Ennis Town Council meeting on Wednesday.
Leading the calls, Councillor Brian Meaney requested an explanation from Clare County Council why bathing waters in Ballyalla didn’t meet standards.
Councillor Meaney called for a more proactive approach to improve water quality to facilitate the lake’s restoration as a bathing amenity for people in the town.
He noted that the percentage of total coliforms and faecal coliforms higher than accepted guidelines had increased from 29% to 100% and from 7% to 37% respectively from 2005 to 2010.
He was supported by Councillor Johnny Flynn, who recalled the lake was once a major asset for the town and proposed that money should be set aside for the proper development of this amenity as a bathing area.
Councillor Flynn proposed the council should open up the area for camping and make provision for motorhomes, which was a huge area for potential new tourists.
Mayor of Ennis, Councillor Tommy Brennan, recalled visiting a similar area in Germany, which promoted water skiing and suggested new uses should be found for the lake as well as marketing it together with facilities in Lees Road.
Having participated in a clean-up of Ballyalla last year, Councillor Mary Howard recalled a lot of local residents who couldn’t afford to go on holidays confirmed they would use it a lot more if it was properly upgraded.
“Its proximity to Lees Road is hugely important and this is something the council should be taking advantage of,” she said.
Councillor Mary Coote-Ryan said people were lucky to have the lake and noted it was once a “jewel in the crown” and recalled seeing a lot of different uses for a manmade lake in Norwich.
If councillors wanted to put money aside to develop Ballyalla, town manager Ger Dollard pointed out they would have to decide what it wanted to prioritise.
Mr Dollard acknowledged that, under more stringent standards for bathing waters, Ballyalla was now classified as poor. He added a number of changes would have to be made, including changing the area for feeding birds to improve water quality.
Clare County Council environment director of services admitted that even eliminating the use of the slipway for feeding birds and local bird life, it was unlikely that the bathing area at this location would meet the 2008 standards.
Mr David Timlin warned that failure to reach the necessary standards during the 2011 season was likely to result in an application for de-listing of the area as a bathing amenity.
Clare County Council designated a small area located on the eastern shore of the lake, adjacent to the public roadway and children’s play area as a bathing area in the early 1990s. This was endorsed under the Bathing Water Regulations 1992.
The lake is recognised as being amongst the more important European sites for bird life, with details of the site and bird counts for the site being an important consideration in the designation of the site as a Special Protection Area for Birds.
Ballyalla did see a significant number of bathers up to and including the late 1980s. This situation has now changed, with the area being used for walking and general amenity. One of the critical elements of the EC Bathing Water Quality Regulations 2008 is that areas should be designated on the basis of the numbers of bathers in the area.
Mr Timlin admitted there was little consideration of the history of bacteriological water quality at the bathing area prior to the designation.
After its designation, monitoring of the waters at the Ballyalla bathing area was undertaken during the May-September period annually.
“It was frequently found that the bathing water quality did not meet the standards set out in the EC Quality of Bathing Waters Regulations 1992. This is likely to be due to the frequent use of the slipway for feeding birds.
“The two activities are not compatible from a public health perspective and the bathing water monitoring data is a testament to this. The situation is exacerbated during poor weather conditions, when turbulence in the waters stirs up the bottom sediments and provides a significant bacterial load in the water column.
Since 2005, Clare County Council have erected signs in Ballyalla warning of the unsuitability of the waters for bathing,” he said.

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