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Maidhc Garfield, with his dog Luna, comparing a sample of the contaminated river water with clear water at Annaghnageragh river, Moleskey, Mullagh. Photograph by John Kelly

‘River turns orange’ – Irish Water investigate ‘accidental discharge’ linked to West Clare river pollution

IRISH Water is in hot water after the contamination of a West Clare river was linked to an “accidental” discharge from its Doolough Water Treatment Plant last week.
Maidhc Garfield has claimed the Annagreeragh River was polluted as a result of the discharge of aluminium sulfate filtrate from the Doolough Water Treatment Plant on Thursday night.
This claim has prompted a joint investigation by Clare County Council and Irish Water.
“I have noticed the river turns an orange colour with pollution. This usually happens on a Friday or Saturday evening once a month and is a reoccurring theme on the May Bank Holiday and during bank holiday weekends. I can see dead fish floating on the river with a belly full of air poisoned from the river.
“In the last five years the river bank is degrading and all the grass and roots of trees are burned. The bank is falling away. It happened again last week and I have had enough. I rang the county council and the fisheries board and got nowhere. I have been told the samples I have taken will not be valid because I am not a reputable source. I am fighting and I will continue fighting because it is going on at least five years if not ten,” he claims.
Enraged over what has happened to the river, Mr Garfield called for an investigation into the operation of the Doolough Water Treatment Plant. He said different processes could be used to provide drinking water such as charcoal filtering, heavy oxidisation or miscanthus filtering.
He stressed the run off from the water treatment plant should go into a concealed container that goes through further treatment.
“There should be no effluent or run off coming from the plant into a field or waterway. Why are there drains coming out of this site when they are using heavy chemicals?,” he asked.
Doolough Water Treatment Plant is managed by Irish Water, but is being subcontracted out to Clare Clare Council, who act as their agent.
Most of the drinking water for West Clare is supplied from Doolough Lake.
Mr Garfield has alleged aluminium sulfate filtrate was discharged into the river instead of being transported to the Bunlickey Composting Plant in Limerick
The Mullagh beef and sheep farmer said the water contamination had also adversely affected the Pearl Mussel, which is a protected species.
Responding to Clare Champion queries, Irish Water admitted the national water utility and Clare County Council are investigating reports of an “accidental” discharge from the Doolough Water Treatment Plant last week.
“Irish Water has notified both the EPA and Inland Fisheries Ireland of the investigation and will continue to liaise with these and other relevant bodies in relation to the matter.
“Safeguarding the local environment is a top priority for Irish Water and we will provide further updates as this investigation proceeds.”
A Clare County Council spokesman referred Clare Champion queries to Irish Water.
When added to water, aluminium sulfate causes microscopic impurities to clump together into larger particles. These clumps then settle to the bottom of a treatment contained and can be filtered out, making municipal water safe to drink.
Alarmed by reports of the discharge, Councillor PJ Kelly has pledged to raise this matter at the next West Clare Municipal District meeting where he will be seeking answers to series of questions concerning health and safety for people and animals and operational technical issues.
Farming for generations on the banks of the river, Mr Garfield said the river used to be a very good salmon river but most of the fish were gone.
He has installed a buffer zone of more than two metres inside a stock proof fence to ensure cattle can’t damage the river bank any further.
“We and other land owners living along the river are trying to everything we can to do things right.
“We don’t do intensive farming and we don’t have a slurry set up because we are on the banks of the river. We spread rotten farmyard manure seaweed, lime, compost from Limerick.
“I don’t spread any artificial fertiliser on land near the river. We try and stay as natural as we can.”
About five years ago, his father, Anthony recalled the Inland Fisheries did a lot of work on the river near O’Looney’s Bar to promote the retention of salmon. This included placing 80 tonnes of stone to stop salmon injuring themselves using the fish pass at the cascades and instead use the man made one.
Maidhc stressed there is no point in completing works to conserve fish stocks if the river continues to be polluted.
Martin Darcy, who lives near the Doolough Water Treatment Plant, recalled he was going for a walk with his dog on Thursday night when he got a strong smell. When he came close to Creevagh Bridge he saw “steam rising up off the water” and it was like someone had put washing up liquid in the water as the substance produced a pungent dirty discolouration.
“Whatever was let off that night reacted with the water. I would like to know how often is this happening? What happens if an animal comes in contact with the contaminated water? If you ring up your insurance company, and say your animal has consumed any of this water they may not cover it even after you pay for a post mortem.”
He recalled the river used to be very popular for salmon and trout but that is not the case now.
He said the fact that the water in the river was still filthy more than 10km away near Molesky shows the extent of the discharge.
Responding to Clare Champion queries, the EPA has confirmed it received complaints on April 16 and April 17 reporting concerns about the river water quality downstream of the Doolough Water Treatment Plant, West Clare.
The EPA has requested that Irish Water investigate the issue and provide a response to the agency on the outcome of those investigations.
“The EPA will assess the outcome of Irish Water’s investigations and, in tandem with our own investigations, determine what further actions Irish Water may need to take.”

By Dan Danaher

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