Between March and December 2007
36 Boil Water notices were issued across the country.
Galway had a full-scale emergency, when its primary source of drinking water
was contaminated with the potentially deadly cryptosporidium.
We had a terrible problem here only recently.
Galway was in a state of crisis for quite some time.
There were 90,000 people altogether,
everybody in the city, and quite a number of the outlying areas were also affected
so it really was a very big problem indeed.
Galway's problem is a modern fable with lessons for us all.
Rapid growth and development,
in the very area where drinking water is collected from,
resulted in sewage mixing with the City's drinking supply.
What we are effectively trying to do is
turn sewerage into good quality drinking water
because the upstream problems are where it's at.
You know we have sewerage pouring into the water,
we have septic tanks, we have agricultural waste,
we have run off from forestry.
I mean there's a lot of things going into our water source
which shouldn't be going into our water source.
And the biggest of these? What's the biggest issue that's affecting water?
Well the issue that I'd focus on certainly
is the fact that we've got municipal sewerage going into the water.
And I mean that's absolutely unacceptable because there is money available,
it's been made available to deal with the problems
and yet we have 50 year old treatment plants
which are not sufficient for the number of houses that are being built.
And in certain cases we have towns such as Claregalway
where you know it doesn't have a municipal sewerage treatment plant at all
and yet there is a massive development going on there.
I spoke to Sean Dunleavy, a local hotel owner in Claregalway,
about the outbreak in his area.
So when this outbreak of cryptosporidium affected this region
how did it affect you and your family?
Well immediately once the HSE were aware of the problem
they put a drinking ban on all the water.
Because of the whole scare
there was a huge reduction in bookings too for rooms in the hotel.
I think if you have a lot of development in the region
and obviously we're part of that development in the region,
if conditions aren't absolutely correct then
in a kind of a "perfect storm" situation like we had last December
when floods rose all around the area
I suppose it's possible that you're going to get that kind of an outbreak.
There needs to be a whole cooperation between the authorities
and the people on the ground to make sure that standards are sufficient
to prevent this kind of an outbreak occurring again.
It really is not something that anybody in the world should accept let alone in Ireland.
I think we need one Agency to oversee the whole situation
because here in the city we have no control over
what goes into the water in the county area.
It's the County Council that has control over that.
And you know we get this thing of finger pointing at each other
and that's not sufficient.
We need somebody to be able to say,
"look you know lads get your act together, you have to do it, end of story".
This sense of urgency is imperative
if we are to tackle an issue as basic as our drinking water.
The EU Water Framework Directive calls for us
to improve all our water quality by 2015
but we shouldn't wait for European law to compel us
to protect our health through access to clean water.
I spoke to Ray Parle of the HSE.
Drinking water obviously is vital for life
and it's essential that water be free from microbial or chemical contamination
as otherwise it can cause serious illness.
What damage can it do to our health?
In most healthy adults, they may be sick for a few weeks, they will recover,
however in immuno-compromised individuals
or in the elderly or very small children it can be fatal
and there have been fatalities recorded in outbreaks in other parts of the world
fortunately not so far in Ireland.
But Ireland is changing;
rapid growth can bring scarcity and poor water supply.
There is no doubt that there is a significant increase now on water demand
a lot of plants were built a long, long time ago
and they are under increasing pressure.
Also as a disinfection technology,
chlorine has in the past been remarkably successful in dealing with contamination.
Like E-coli and it's very effective in combating E-coli.
Unfortunately cryptosporidium is highly resistant to chlorination
and hence plants that may have successfully got rid of E-coli
with their treatment systems
now need to upgrade to be able to combat the cryptosporidiosis threat.
Combating localised outbreaks is difficult
when responsibilities lie within different Authorities.
This can cause confusion and grey areas
so there must be a better system.
We don't have a Water Authority in Ireland
like nearly every country in Europe.
Why is that and should we have one?
Well it's the whole problem with Government really
is we have lack of enforcement.
We pass this legislation and we have laws
and we have groups set up to look at things
but at the end of the day somebody has to do the work.
Water really is a bit of a no-brainer
we should just be getting on and doing the work
that we all know needs to be done.
Are we managing our planning and development
and our land use planning properly in this regard?
No we're not, because in reality
we should have the water and sewerage schemes in there first
before or at least in progress before the development takes place
but we're not doing that.
What we are doing is building the development,
we're planning for the sewerage and the water treatment
but then we are not building it.
So really it's just a very very simple issue of we have to get on with doing the work.
The problem in the catchment area is certainly not solved
but at least the treatment plant in Galway City
has undergone major improvements following the crisis.
I talked to Ciarán Hayes of Galway City Council
about the ongoing problems and solutions.
Why is the water being affected there?
What is causing the problem upstream?
Well I suppose there are multiple issues upstream;
there are issues with regard to agriculture,
there are issues with regard to the proliferation of septic tanks,
there are issues with regard to discharges from the wastewater treatment plants
so you have a combination of all of those.
And what happened with us in March of 2007
was that we had a weather event where we had
inclement weather for up to 6 weeks followed by storms
all of which contributed to the contamination of the water.
And of course we could have big storms again
with climate change couldn't we?
Absolutely and the issue here for me,
we're effectively at the end of the pipe in Galway City
so the issue for me is to make sure we have the infrastructure
which is robust infrastructure that's capable with dealing with the parasite.
In this area here we have 10 clarifiers,
this is where the chemical treatment takes place.
The water then flows into the filter beds on the far side
which is the second stage treatment
and from there it goes through the UV which is the third stage treatment.
At this point in time, I think we are probably the only public supply
that has that 3 treatment process in place.
So the quality of the water that is being produced now in Galway City
is among the best in the country.
Galway's treatment plant may now at least be amongst the best in Ireland
but the underlying issues of contamination at source
are far from being solved.
With poorly planned development continuing
it seems only a matter of time before we hear the same story
from many other parts of the country.
The fact is that the reputation of Galway as a tourist destination
was severely tarnished by the whole water incident
but the reality is that this is going to happen in other areas of the country.
For more information on water quality in your area
as well as the process of testing water
check out the Environmental Protection Agency's website at www.epa.ie.
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