Water quality

As the European Commission informs Ireland that drinking water must be kept free of contamination or it will face daily fines, we draw attention to the absolute failure of the EPA to use its powers to require Local Authorities to take all steps to bring the inadequate water supplies up to the legal minimum standard with a specified period of time.

In the case of Galway and the current cryptosporidium outbreak, filtration alone will eliminate this dangerous protozoa. Even slow sand filtration will remove cryptosporidium. This is hardly rocket science.

The Commission recently levied a one-off fine of 20 million euros against France for what it called "persistent infringements" of fishing regulations with a further payment of 57.76 million euros for every six-month period from the decision until compliance.

Read our full Press Release.
As the European Commission informs Ireland that drinking water must be kept free of contamination or it will face daily fines, we draw attention to the absolute failure of the EPA to use its powers to require Local Authorities to take all steps to bring the inadequate water supplies up to the legal minimum standard with a specified period of time.

In the case of Galway and the current cryptosporidium outbreak, filtration alone will eliminate this dangerous protozoa. Even slow sand filtration will remove cryptosporidium. This is hardly rocket science.

The Commission recently levied a one-off fine of 20 million euros against France for what it called "persistent infringements" of fishing regulations with a further payment of 57.76 million euros for every six-month period from the decision until compliance.

Read our full Press Release.
RTE Radio One: The Morning Show
Ryan Tubridy & Tony Lowes on the balloon ban

RT: Now there's a lobby group based in West Cork which is calling for a ban on the release of mass balloons, do you know where hundreds or thousands of balloons are let out to commemorate an event, some our friends in the United States are probably a little more fond of that we are. But it seems that this was sparked by earlier this summer when President Mary McAleese attended the 20th anniversary of the commemoration for those who dies in the Air India disaster off West Cork. 329 balloons were released, one for each of the victims of the tragedy, and this act prompted our next guest, who is going to join us now, to call for the a ban on such acts for environmental reasons. Tony Lowes, spokesperson for the Friends of the Irish Environment, good morning Tony.
TL: Good morning Ryan.

RT: Thanks for talking to us this morning. I don't want to get into the Air India commemoration too much on the basis that that's very sensitive subject and has been marked recently substantially, but more to the point about the balloons, which is the case in point here. What's you're objection really, Tony?


TL: I agree with you straight off that we didn't want to bring any disrespect to the ceremony but, the fact is that balloons are a serious problem in the marine world where they cause all kinds of damage to all kinds of species. These animals mistake balloons small marine creatures like squid and they ingest them.

Now two things can happen. If a balloon goes down say a sea turtles stomach it can block the entrance so that the animal actually can't go on eating . And the other thing that happens is balloons, some of them still inflated in fact, they begin to fill up the stomach of these animals so that they think they are full but they're not, and they die of starvation so we have countless examples of this around the world. We just wanted to point out to the President that this is not an appropriate way to celebrate anything , no matter how tragic the event was.


RT: The argument that I believe the Minister has been offering is that up to 95% of the balloons hit 5 miles altitude and then they burst into small fragments and therefore no harm at all really, therefore leaving you with approximately 5% of balloons released into the open as it were in this nature could potentially cause damage.


TL: There are two issues there. The small small fragments that come down are still the same material, these fragments, and there are all kinds of them out there. You'll see them on the beach when you walk down, the birds peck at them. In one study in Scotland 80% of the seabirds off an island were found to have plastic ingested so even as fragments they continue to pose a hazard.

And the 5% that come down, the industry says, because this is industry talk that you're hearing here, these balloons last for a year in sea water. They ran an experiment in South Caroline, where they have now banned them, and they found that contrary to what the industry said - which is that a balloon lasts no longer than an oak leaf, these things persist in the water, there are examples of turtles that have up to 25 plastic bags in their stomachs for instance.

We did a great thing here by removing the plastic bag and putting a levy on it. I think everyone appreciates that and in the marine context that was very important because they cause a lot of damage in the same way that the plastic yoke on top of the beer six pack is a particularly deadly item to have floating around in the ocean. Animals entangle themselves, sea birds in particular.


RT: But you don't want a ban on these balloons in a blanket way - you don't want a kid going to a fun fair not have a balloon with a Mickey Mouse head on it?


TL: Absolutely not, you know there is some kind of basic or primitive attraction in having these balloons that are lighter than air. And most of the legislation allows for the release of 10 within a day.

What we are trying to prevent is, one balloon release in America was over a million balloons. That's a lot of balloons. I know we don't go to those extremes here in Ireland but the fact is that we are not really aware of the impact of these kinds of plastics when they hit the ocean or we would have moved on and followed the plastic bag levy with returnable bottles, for example. But we haven't done that. We don't connect the two, and that's where we hoped the President would help us but she was not very forthcoming.


RT: Well the idea, it's the modern world that throws up all these pollutions that would never have been welcome in a perfect world in terns of nature. I recall Central Park had a problem some years ago with tobacco butts where the squirrels were eating them. And then they cleared up all the tobacco butts and the squirrels had tobacco withdrawal symptoms and were attacking walkers in the Park because they wanted another hit.

So I suppose you can never accommodate the modern world when it comes to nature really - you can try, but trying to ban balloons and releasing balloons to commemorate a service or something like that, its pretty its up there, its lofty, but is it realistic?


TL: I think its an example of what we are doing where we don't realise the effects, its all very well to bring up the kind of example you did and I'm sure that there are a lot of others ones. But the fact is life is changing around us. We are actually running out of oil, that means we are running out of the stuff that we make plastics with, there is a whole series of effects like global warming that are going on around us. But we don't realise it, we are just carrying on heedless and this Government in particular doesn't listen to the science, they just don't listen to the science because they don't want to know.


RT: Well this Government, well not this particular Government but in this country you talk about the plastic bags, they're gone, you can't walk half a mile without seeing bottling recycling plants, the green bins the wheelie bins are in, I would have thought it was a more environmentally friendly place to live that certainly ten years ago and more so than a lot of other countries. Plastic bags, I was in London recently and nearly offered a plastic bag to put my plastic bag in, such is the nature of the lot they are.


TL: Yeah and the reason we managed to be such a leading example to the world in plastic bags, and I get phone calls from the BBC, from Australia, from America asking us how we managed to do this - we did it because we don't produce any plastic bags in Ireland so no jobs were lost. That's the bottom line. That's what preventing it being introduced in other countries and other cites, what they called the plastic film industry. They are an enormously powerful lobby.

What happened to the chewing gum levy? That we were going to bring in here, the chewing gum levy that would help us clean up our streets. A visit to the appropriate authorities by the US Ambassador is what happened.


RT: That's all probably up for discussion on that one, ands that's one we'll get into another day without doubt, but on the balloons front relevant to Mary McAlesse and she was - what did she kind of dismiss it or did she say she was a bit busy that day to…


TL: Well, her Protocol Officer wrote to us and said that our views had been noted, it was a two line letter that makes it quite clear that we didn't get any sympathy and nor did we get any sympathy from the Minister. You know the opportunities are there to improve but Ireland has the lowest environmental awareness of any European country according to the EU surveys. Less people in Ireland connect what they do with the environment, less people are willing to do anything about it. People like myself are regarded as cranks who are always causing troubles, party poopers.

We're trying to say the world is changing and we have to adapt, will you please wake up. We don't know how to say this, balloons highlighting an issue like this, maybe that's one way to get people to try and think about the effects of their actions.


RT: All right. I suppose finally, with the release of balloons into the sky and you've very eloquently described what happens and what can happen if the balloons ends up landing in the ocean and so forth - is it a common thing in this country that balloons get released for commemorative purposes? It can't be that common in this country, can it?


TL: No, I don't think its that common and as you pointed out the United States would be the worst offender but certainly anyone who has lived in England, particularly London or Manchester any of the big cities, knows that balloon releases are a common way to celebrate events, to draw attention, they make a good photograph for the media. They are not unknown in Ireland. They do happen here. This was a good example of it. It was a thoughtless thing to do.


RT: All right, thanks for joining us this morning - it was nice to talk to you.
Madam;

It is difficult to understand how Minister Cullen's Draft Guidelines on Sustainable Rural Housing can call the Groundwater Protection Scheme [GPS] a 'critical element' in his proposals to permit large numbers of one-off houses in rural areas.
The Editor,
The Irish Times,
15 May, 2004

Re: GROUNDWATER PROTECTION


Madam;

It is difficult to understand how Minister Cullen's Draft Guidelines on Sustainable Rural Housing can call the Groundwater Protection Scheme [GPS] a 'critical element' in his proposals to permit large numbers of one-off houses in rural areas.

The scheme, which builds on the aquifer mapping required by 2004 under the Water Framework Directive, maps in computer-compatible format the vulnerability of each aquifer to surface pollution. This is indeed critical information for both planners and licensing authorities. Further, as the Guidelines state, the Scheme also 'provides the information background to the policies of the development plan in setting out the planning authority's approach to various categories of development in areas of varying groundwater vulnerability.'

However, the scheme, which is run by the Groundwater Section of the Geological Service of Ireland [GSI], was suspended two years ago as a result of the failure to replace retiring staff and the use of temporary, non-established staff, some of them in very senior positions. The GSI has served under ten Departments and reported to fourteen Assistant Secretaries since 1971. The status of the GSI is reflected in the fact that there continues to be no geological presence on the Irish Council for Science, Technology and Innovation and that no one agency coordinates Research and Development.

Negotiations that began between the relevant Ministers in 1999 for sufficient resources have proved 'torturous', and in spite of some recent appointments to the GSI, the actual number of those working in the Groundwater Section has fallen in the last year from 19 to 10.

In fact surveys have only been completed in 11 counties and the GSI has been obliged to refuse requests for assistance from many local authorities. Submissions by the GSI to the Minister for Finance indicate that once "reactivation" takes place in 2005 it will take 8 years before the rest of the country is assessed for its groundwater vulnerability.

The Minister for the Environment may not be aware of the situation, which has evolved under the watch of the Minister for Marine and Natural Resources. Even the GSI 2003 annual report is opaque, stating that "The challenges came in the form of resource constraints, as well as the continuing journey towards a digital environment".

If the Minister read the report in the first national language, i.e. An Ghaeilge, the matter might have been clearer to him. This version reads "I measc na ndushlan sin bhi constaice acmhainni agus postanna narbh fheidir a lionadh, chomh maith" - "and posts that we were not able to fill".

Tony Lowes
Friends of the Irish Environment
Verification: 087 2176316 / 027-73025
FIE is seeking the restoration of the Groundwater Protection Scheme [GPS] which has been suspended for the past two years. The GPS enables planners and licensing authorities to assess the vulnerability of aquifers, our groundwater storage, to developments on the surface like one-off houses. The scheme has been suspended with more than half of Ireland uncompleted in spite of the fact that it is called a 'critical' element in the draft Guidelines for Sustainable Rural Development. Read FIE's address to the International Association of Hydrologist on how the suspension can effect the National Development Plan and check to see the status of the suspended scheme in your own area in the GSI on-line map. Press Release.
FIE is seeking the restoration of the Groundwater Protection Scheme [GPS] which has been suspended for the past two years. The GPS enables planners and licensing authorities to assess the vulnerability of aquifers, our groundwater storage, to developments on the surface like one-off houses. The scheme has been suspended with more than half of Ireland uncompleted in spite of the fact that it is called a 'critical' element in the draft Guidelines for Sustainable Rural Development. Read FIE's address to the International Association of Hydrologist on how the suspension can effect the National Development Plan and check to see the status of the suspended scheme in your own area in the GSI on-line map. Press Release.
Dear Sirs;

On 25 November, 2002, our organisation made a submission to the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources 'Statement of Strategy 2002-2005'. This submission sought greater resources for the Geological Service of Ireland's [GSI] Groundwater Section in order to reinstitute the Groundwater Protection Scheme [GPS].
The Secretary,
Spatial Policy Section,
Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government,
Custom House, Dublin 1
30th April, 2004
By email

Sustainable Rural Housing: Consultation Draft of Guidelines for Planning Authorities

Natural Resources and Water Quality [Section 4.4]
& Natural Resources [3.3.2]

Dear Sirs;

On 25 November, 2002, our organisation made a submission to the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources 'Statement of Strategy 2002-2005'. This submission sought greater resources for the Geological Service of Ireland's [GSI] Groundwater Section in order to reinstitute the Groundwater Protection Scheme [GPS].

This scheme, which seeks to establish the vulnerability of an area to pollution of its aquifer, was suspended in 2002 in order to meet the commitments of the Water Framework Directive [WFD]. 11 counties are uncompleted and 5 must be resurveyed in order that the data is compatible with current software.

Our concern at that time was largely relating to the National Development Plan and the consequences to large scale infrastructure projects of the suspension of this scheme, of which the Kildare By-Pass cost overruns because of aquifer protection is a lesson in point.

Now, however, we feel that the new Guidelines proposed by your Department may be taking place without your knowledge of the suspension of this scheme, which must be seen to be critical to meeting the demands of sustainable rural housing.

We would draw your attention to the following references in your document:

3.3.2 Natural Resources
The development plan should include or refer to information regarding the location of any particularly vulnerable water resources whether surface waters such as rivers and lakes or groundwater, aquifers and the sources of public water supplies.

4.4 Protecting Water Quality
The key to achieving this is to ensure that areas vulnerable to contamination are identified and that measures are taken to locate and construct development in such a manner as to avoid any adverse impacts upon water quality… In summary, critical elements of the approach include the need for a "Groundwater Protection Scheme" to provide the information background to the policies of the development plan in setting out the planning authority's approach to various categories of development in areas of varying groundwater vulnerability.

In spite of the clear acknowledgement in the Guidelines the reliance on the Groundwater Protection Scheme, the GPS in fact remains suspended. Submissions by the GSI to the Minister for Finance indicate that once "reactivation" takes place in 2005 it will take 8 years to complete the GPS of Ireland.

By virtue of Government policies at various times requiring the non-filling of vacancies in the GSI, the complement of permanent professional staff have become reduced and aged. On an average, one professional staff retires each year between 1997, 2005. A request was made in 1997 for conversion of 6 temporary staff to permanent staff and the filling of six vacancies - including two new posts on the Groundwater Protection Scheme. In fact, since April 2001 that request was considered lapsed.

In negotiations on new requests that are by their nature torturous, proposals have now been approved to appoint two new permanent staff to the Groundwater Section– but with one retirement, the true increase is a single post. In fact the groundwater section of the GSI now has 10 employed, down from 18 a year ago.

When the number of temporary staff outnumber the number of permanent staff, the result is low morale and unequal salary increments and regulations, such as tenure and superannuation. Further, while an element of temporary staff provides training and experience for the national pool of professional talent and many have made important contributions, only permanent staff can effectively supervise them and ensure new knowledge is transmitted through the GSI. Skills and standards cannot be passed on if there are breaks in continuity.

Even though the Local Authorities are contributors to the costs of the GPS and there have been requests from five additional local authorities for groundwater survey work in their counties, insufficient staff is available to supervise and carry out key functions. The failure to provide sufficient resources and the additional requirements of the WFD has meant the GSI has had to refuse these requests.

The GSI's Consultative Committee has been adamant about the staffing problems, including motions suggesting that there is 'serious concern that its key targets will not be achieved if the organisation's significant staffing issues, especially those relating to contract staff, are not resolved in a timely way.'

The GSI has served under ten Departments and reported to fourteen Assistant Secretaries since 1971. The status of the GSI is reflected in the fact that there continues to be no geological presence on the Irish Council for Science, Technology and Innovation and that no one agency coordinates Research and Development.

Your Guidelines charge Local Authorities with the protection of our groundwater. But meanwhile, another Department has cut back on the research required to equip these Authorities with the tools they need.

We would respectfully draw your attention to this situation and seek your active intervention to assure the demands of these Guidelines can be met throughout rural Ireland.

Without a balanced investment by the State in ascertaining the hydrogeology of Ireland, there can be little doubts that your Guidelines will fail to deliver the promised protection of the environment within their effective lifetime.

Yours etc.,

Tony Lowes
.