Tuesday 23 July 2019

Locals concerned about 'knock-on' effect from beach closure notices during heatwave

Warning signs at Sandycove Beach as an Irish heatwave is expected. Pic Steve Humphreys
Warning signs at Sandycove Beach as an Irish heatwave is expected. Pic Steve Humphreys
Surveying the water at Sandycove Beach as an Irish heatwave is expected. Pic Steve Humphreys
'Do Not Swim' signs posted at The Forty Foot as an Irish heatwave is expected. Pic Steve Humphreys
Warning signs near polluted water at Sandycove Beach as an Irish heatwave is expected. Pic Steve Humphreys

Callum Lavery

Residents in south Dublin are concerned about the impact the closure notice at three popular beaches will have on the local economy during the upcoming heatwave.

This week, three popular Dublin swimming spots have been temporarily closed off to the public amid fears of low quality water. The bathing waters of Seapoint, Sandycove and the Forty Foot have all been affected.

Dun Laoghaire - Rathdown Council  (DLRC) issued the closure notice on Monday evening, explaining that there was an "overflow discharge of wastewater" at a number of wastewater treatment facilities and pumping stations in the bay area of south Dublin, following heavy rainfall on Sunday and Monday.

This is the second time this month that water quality issues were questioned following overflow at the water treatment plants. Earlier this month, Dollymount, Sandymount and Merrion Strands, Seapoint Beach, Sandycove Beach, The Forty Foot, Killiney Beach, and White Rock Beach were all similarly restricted.

Warning signs near polluted water at Sandycove Beach as an Irish heatwave is expected. Pic Steve Humphreys
Warning signs near polluted water at Sandycove Beach as an Irish heatwave is expected. Pic Steve Humphreys

Local residents are outraged that the beaches have been affected at such a busy time in the summer season, claimed local councillor John Lahart.

“This would be bothersome for locals at any time of the year but the fact that it’s June underscores the nuisance that leaks from the plant cause," the Fianna Fáil councillor said.

Warning signs at Sandycove Beach as an Irish heatwave is expected. Pic Steve Humphreys
Warning signs at Sandycove Beach as an Irish heatwave is expected. Pic Steve Humphreys

"There is also the potential for a knock-on effect on tourism and the local economy given we are due some warm, summery weather later this week and people tend to flock to the seaside.

"Swimming restrictions are already in place at Sandymount and Merrion strand beaches for the remainder of the 2019 season as they failed to minimum water quality standards according to the Environmental Protection Agency's Bathing Water Quality in Ireland Report 2018."

'Do Not Swim' signs posted at The Forty Foot as an Irish heatwave is expected. Pic Steve Humphreys
'Do Not Swim' signs posted at The Forty Foot as an Irish heatwave is expected. Pic Steve Humphreys

He added; "I appreciate that a certain degree of this discharge cannot be avoided due to the overflow caused by poor weather, but I do not believe that this level of disruption was ever envisaged. To that end, Irish Water must thoroughly explain how and why sewage pollution into our sea has become so commonplace as of late."

Local residents are annoyed with the swimming water quality in the area.

"This is not the first time that a warning was put on the water...it’s disgusting," local resident Harriet Donnelly, who has swam in the sea every day for the last four years, said.

"There were people swimming there this morning but they had their mouths shut and they were very quick.

"I don’t think many people knew about the warning. I saw a group of school children on the coast playing in the rockpools and had to go over and tell them about the warning.

"People are understandably furious, if they know it is going to rain heavily and that the sewer can’t take it, they should let people know before it happens."

Tom Dunphy of Dunphy's Bar, Dun Laoghaire argued that someone should be held responsible for the overflow issues.

"It shouldn’t happen but it does happen. There has to be someone responsible, someone who is responsible for not making sure that the plant and the tanks are big enough to contain the water when needed."

By coincidence, the water has also turned an orange hue along the Dublin coastline, but the DLRC has promised the colour change is not due to sewage but rather due to algae blooms and are non-toxic.

The Irish Marine Institute today confirmed the information.

"Results this afternoon show that this is not raw sewerage but is a micro-alga called Noctiluca scintillans. This is a benign, non-toxic, species - the ‘blooms’ are characteristically yellow, orange or orange/red," they explained.

"The appearance of this algal bloom is not directly associated with the waste water overflows associated with the temporary bathing prohibition.

"We have been advised that this is a natural  summer phenomenon in response to long day length, high nutrients and warm water.

"These blooms have been reported along the east coast for the past few weeks and are typical for this time of the year. The algal bloom exhibits bioluminescence, blue sparkles of light emitted when disturbed by waves on the shore or in the wake of a boat, hence the name Noctiluca, or Night Light."

In the statement, the council said the restrictions will remain in place until conditions improve.

"As a result of heavy rainfall in the Dublin region on 23 and 24 June, overflow discharges of wastewater occurred at a number of wastewater treatment facilities and pumping stations in the bay area of south Dublin, in both the DLR and DCC areas, and this is suspected of having an adverse impact on water quality on bathing waters in the DLR area.

"Having assessed the impact of the wastewater discharges and carried out visual inspections of bathing areas in DLR, and acting with the advice of the HSE, Temporary Bathing Prohibition Notices are being put in place with immediate effect, as a precaution, at Seapoint, Sandycove and Forty Foot bathing areas, pending results from testing of water quality at these locations. 

"Sampling of these locations has taken place today and results are expected to be available in 3 days.Notices warning bathers and swimmers not to enter the water will be put up at the affected bathing areas. These temporary prohibition notices will remain in place until water conditions return to normal and sampling results are clear."

Meanwhile, a spokesperson for Irish Water told Independent.ie that they regret the impact the closures have had on swimmers but hopes the €400m upgrade to the water treatment facility in Ringsend will decrease the number of overflows experienced each year.

"The yellow weather warning rain impacted a number of pumping stations affecting bathing waters around Dún Laoghaire. Irish Water is liaising with Dún Laoghaire Rathdown County Council on this issue.

"These notices will remain in place pending testing of the bathing water. This testing will be carried out by Dublin City Council and Dún Laoghaire Rathdown County Council.

"Irish Water regrets the impact this may have on beach users.

"In order to treat the increasing volumes of wastewater arriving at the plant to the required standard and capacity, Irish Water is investing over €400 million in the staged upgrading of Ringsend Wastewater Treatment Plant to allow the wastewater of an additional 400,000 population equivalent.

"Storm water overflows are designed and operated in line with international best practice in order to safeguard public health. Without a storm water overflow, raw sewage could back up in the network during heavy rainfall and could flood homes and businesses.

"In extreme weather, storm water overflows will still happen. However, the current upgrade of Ringsend means that the capacity will be increased and these incidents will be fewer but will not be eliminated.

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