While authorities have yet to confirm the specific source for the current outbreak of cryptosporidium contamination in Galway’s drinking water. When the current crisis over water pollution is over An Taisce’s Galway Association will insist that a complete review of Rural Housing Guidelines issued by the Department of the Environment must be ordered. As this country’s only recognised fully ‘independent’ volunteer membership environment & heritage charity An Taisce members work to protect both our built and natural heritage, for the future benfit of all our citizens.

So, on a day set out by the United Nations Organisation to be designated ‘World Water Day’ (March 22, 2007) which is to remind the ‘first world’ of the needs of the ‘third world’ for clean potable water those of us who live in Galway are faced with the situation where for the foreseeable future, we will have to boil our own drinking water to ensure that the cryptosporidium parasite is killed. In a pure coincidence of timing, this State is now also facing heavy fines from the European Commission for our governments “failure to abide by EU law and provide clean water supplies to citizens”.

For some years, since An Taisce addressed the problem of water pollution while making it’s infamous written submission to the compilation of this government’s National Spatial Strategy 2002 - 2020. The organisation has been targeted, vilified and abused by vested interests accusing An Taisce of ‘preventing people from building houses in the countryside’.

On the Late Late show of 23 March, An Taisce were accused of “lying” about the EPA’s position on the part septic tanks had to play in the water pollution crisis being experienced in rural Ireland. The leader of the Irish Rural Dwellers Association Mr Jim Connolly refuses to accept that the EPA believes seepage from septic tanks represents “one of the most important sources of groundwater pollution".

It was and still is An Taisce’s view that, “one-off developments are liable to do more damage to the landscape and ground water (per unit built) than larger settlements. One-off housing generates septic-tank seepage, light pollution and disproportionate land-take, as well as, in many cases, aesthetic blight”.

Water, and specifically groundwater, is important to everyone. It is the reason why An Taisce continues to challenge the development of rural one-off houses, each with its own sometimes less than satisfactory borehole. Instead, we try to encourage nucleated settlements that can be economically joined to professionally-operated local authority water supplies, and sewage treatment works.

An Taisce’s appeals on rural housing are not based solely on a criticism of inappropriate suburban styles in a rural setting. Rather, we realise that water consumption has increased enormously. In bygone days, one or two isolated cottages along a rural road produced very little effluent, but nowadays rural housing often seems to be a development of four or five bedroom houses complete with ‘en suite’ bathrooms, sinks, washing machines, dishwashers, spewing phosphorus and nitrogen, etc into our lakes (generally the source of our drinking water).

We are still concerned about whether the countryside can take such effluent loadings, particularly in areas of low-permiability rocks and soils, especially along roads around lakeshores in the midlands and the west.

In the years since we made our submission to the NSS, most of the professional planning bodies as well as An Bord Pleanala itself have come out in support with opinions similar to An Taisce’s. In fact ABP’s own chairman Mr. John O’Connor has expressed serious concern “over the spread of septic tanks and other sewage treatment systems for one-off houses with unsuitable ground and soil conditions” 2005 annual report.

Professor Jacqueline McGlade of the European Environment Agency, has also warned that “sprawling growth should be recognised as the worst element of the country’s environmental record”.

While, in a reply to Michael D. Higgins TD (Jan 7th, 2005) the Director General of government sponsored Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Dr. Mary Kelly said that in regard to water conditions in the Loughs Corrib, Mask and Carra and in the Owenriff river, “losses from agricultural activities, septic tanks, sewage treatment works and forestry are considered to be the most important in the catchment of these three lakes”.

The changing climate, by reason of global atmospheric pollution (Global Warming), is leading to us having warmer, wetter, winters and dryer summers. This, leading to longer drawn-out incidence of flooding around the lakes with greater opportunities for pollution, such as dead animals being occasionally disposed of in rivers and the general dumping of rubbish on riverbanks, which doesn't help!

We now have to add to the mix of water pollutants a growth in the incidence of contamination of Galway’s main water supply, obtained from Lough Corrib, by the resistant parasite - Cryptosporidium.

Once the source of this contamination is found, and isolated, the two Galway local authorities, the Health Service Executive (HSE) West and the Environmental Protection Agency must come together to ensure the provision of a clean and healthy water supply for the west of Ireland can, in future, be guaranteed. The ongoing health of our population and, the economic development of society will depend on their actions and future vigilance.

An Taisce are now calling on Galway City Council officials to re-convene meetings of their own Transportation & Infrastructure SPC (this committee deals with the Water Services Investment Programme) which has not met in session since 7th September, 2006.

What for instance, we might ask, is the current status of the IDA’s new 2000 job Bio/Pharma Science Campus project being promoted in Oranmore. Which we are told will depend on a copious supply of clean water being locally available?

And, what of tourism? Will the millions of euros Failte Ireland spends annually on tourism promotion be wasted, when prospective visitors hear of these problems, and cancel their visit for fear of catching cryptosporidiosis?