Kerry Association News

1st November 2013
News Item

One of our interests is the prevention of water pollution in the county. Back in the 1990s, anglers expressed concern that there were indications Lough Leane, the largest of Killarney's lakes, was showing signs of pollution because of inadequate treatment of the town sewage. Unfortunately, their warnings were not heeded and, in 1997, a massive algal bloom appeared on the lake. The water turned pea green and had a most unpleasant smell - not what the tourist expects to see when they visit the much vaunted Lakes of Killarney!

The local authority was forced to take action and funding was obtained to upgrade the town sewage treatment plant and to employ consultants to study the sources of the pollution. The 'Lough Leane Working Group' was set up with representatives from all interested parties, such as Councillors, anglers, farmers, foresters, tourism operators and environmental groups, including An Taisce.

High phosphorus levels in the town sewage was quickly identified as a major cause of the algal bloom but the consultants also did surveys showing that agriculture, forestry and septic tanks in the catchment were making a significant contribution. The studies continued for four years, from 1998 to 2002, and the Working Group met regularly to discuss the latest results. In the beginning, there were many arguments between the different groups as to 'who was to blame' but, as time went on we all came to realise we needed to work together to solve this problem. The consultants advised farmers and foresters how to improve working practices to keep pollution to a minimum. The environment groups assisted the local authority in organising events where local people were advised on practices, such as the use of phosphate free detergents, to minimise the phosphorous loading. Schools were visited and information leaflets were distributed widely. The local authority carried out water testing and upgraded the treatment plant, including the installation of phosphate removal technology. The consultants produced their final report, A Catchment based approach for reducing nutrient inputs from all sources to the Lakes of Killarney, which was launched in March 2004. The report recommended action for the future, including continuation of sampling and monitoring of water quality. The condition of the lake has varied over the years, depending on temperature and rainfall as well as phosphorous levels, but there has been no significant level of algae bloom. The surveys gave some unexpected results and has enlarged our knowledge of the entire catchment.

At a recent meeting of the Lough Leane Working group, we were presented with preliminary results for 2013. The prolonged spells of warm, still weather which occurred this year can be conducive to algal growth but, in fact, the lake remained in good condition and showed no signs of pollution. The water was clear and the phosphorus level was lower than previous years, at 7 micrograms/litre. Survey results since 1997 indicate that, if the phosphorus level remains below 20 micrograms/litre, algal blooms are far less likely to occur.

At the meeting a report was also given on the new 'septic tank' testing which will begin shortly. The EPA has identified sensitive areas in the county and advised Kerry County Council that 57 'septic tanks' must be checked. It was also pointed out that, when Friends of the Irish Environment submitted their initial complaint to the EU Commission, one of the documents included was the Lough Leane report. This ultimately led to the Court of Justice of the EU fining Ireland for its failure to introduce legislation to control the disposal of domestic waste waters in the countryside. The Kerry Association meets on the first Thursday of the month at 8.00 p.m. in Maeve O'Donnell's house, 16 Denny St., Tralee. All members are welcome to attend.

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