Friday 24 May 2019

Blue Flag to fly again in Duncannon if new scheme supported locally

€550,000 fund and grants for farmers offer hope for better water quality in area

Duncannon Beach
Duncannon Beach

David Looby

A Wexford County Council official has said a blue flag will fly at Duncannon Beach within two years following major EU investment in improving water quality at the popular seaside resort.

Duncannon Beach was awarded a blue flag for its water quality in 1988. It lost it 19 years later in 2007 but Assistant Agricultural Scientist Eoin Kinsella said a new EU programme will - with the assistance of local farmers - ensure the blue flag returns within the next two years.

Mr Kinsella said Duncannon is a designated bathing and shellfish area.

'It's a very important area for tourism and the beach can attract between 4,000 and 5,000 people a day in the summer. You can imagine how busy it was during the hot summer we had last year. It is 12 years now without a blue flag.'

Raw sewage entering the water from two streams and run off from farms are two of the reasons water quality results have been coming back poor on occasions over recent years.

Mr Kinsella said Irish Water has committed €7.5m to a new waste water treatment plant at Mersheen near Ramsgrange to service the needs of residents in Ballyhack, Arthurstown, Duncannon and possibly Ramsgrange, which, he argued, should be included in the bundle.

He said the Waterford Estuary and surface water run off from the Duncannon village area is causing high readings. 'Investigations carried out in 2016 and 2017 - snapshot site inspections, found there were three direct discharges to water sources. There was a 50 per cent failure rate on septic tanks.'

He said direct discharges from Ramsgrange are having an affect on the water quality in streams.

European Innovation Partnership funding of €550,000, along with funding provided by Wexford County council, will pay for the programme.

'The aim is to sustainably restore, protect and enhance water quality for bathing and to foster positive relationships between farmers and householders.'

The programme is for water quality in a 3,500 acre to be improved following the Curraghmore stream to Monachee, taking in several kilometres.

'Duncannon is a hydrologically sensitive area. There are 60 landowners and 20 farmyards. In Ramsgrange alone there are 75 houses so it's quite a large area, where we are seeing elevated nitrates an phosphorus, which is impacting on ecology.'

Mr Kinsella said e.coli levels are below 250 in Duncannon's streams.

'We are going in the right direction. The area from the stream to the playground had a major spike in 2016 whatever happened and with the Curraghmore stream we slipped back a fair bit in 2018. We want to create a pollution protection zone for every farm. Teagasc advisors have come on board.'

A local water quality awareness programme is being developed which will require community wide engagement, he said.

'We need to keep maps as simple as possible giving farmers recommendations and actions about how to improve the run off.'

Farmers can earn up to €4,000 per year for engaging with the programme, which will require some investment on their behalf for which grant funding is available under the incentive scheme.

Mr Kinsella said: 'It's a lot of money for a farmer to bring in. We would be looking at between €3,000 and €3,500 per farm in grant aid. A lot of the measures are 50 per cent grant aided. Some (farmers) might not have to carry out any works at all. Water Protection Improvement works are simple and cost effective and there is up to 70 per cent grant aid for soil samples and water harvesting equipment for example.'

He said the initiative will be promoted through a website and on social media.

'We won't see the blue flag back this year but hopefully we will in 2020,' he said.

Cllr Michael Whelan said: 'We know how important the beach is to the peninsula. Is there any way Ramsgrange can get joined into the scheme?'

Mr Kinsella said his team has to compile a report, adding: 'We are really hoping we can get Ramsgrange village into it. It's not a whole lot of extra work. Last year a water quality report showed a spike in Ramsgrange up and down stream.'

Cllr Larry O'Brien welcomed the scheme while expressing concern that some farmers could be penalised.

'I guarantee you this is going to cost farmers money. €135,000 wouldn't put down enough to spend in one farmyard. Farmers do need to come up to standards but we, in Wexford County Council, are the biggest offenders for this blue flag. We are not going to be penalised but now we're going in to the farming sector where someone is going to suffer who can't afford to do these works. I hope the farmers will be treated right and won't be bullied into doing something they can't afford to do.'

He said Campile village's sewage flows into Duncannon, wondering why a sewerage treatment plant was provided for the district's largest village.

'The sewage from Campile is going direct into the River Barrow. It's going down straight through Duncannon; that's not going to help the water quality. I know this is being done because of the mussel beds there and the water quality has to be right,' Cllr O'Brien said.

Mr Kinsella said he will investigate how Campile is affecting Duncannon's water quality.

He said: 'This scheme is completely different (to the sewerage village bundle). The only way these farmers will be penalised is through Department of Agriculture inspections.'

Cllr Michael Sheehan said a housing policy is needed to ensure any new developments in Duncannon don't negatively affect the village's water quality.

Mr Kinsella said once Irish Water can connect homes and businesses into the water mains, there won't be any need for such concerns.

Cathaoirleach Cllr John Fleming said slurry spreading has to be a big contributing factor to poor water quality results.

Mr Kinsella said grants are available to ensure more environmentally friendly ways of spreading slurry so long as it is within regulations.

District director Eamonn Hore said he was in attendance when the first blue flag was raised at Duncannon, adding that the area won't get back the flag until the works are completed.

He said the small stream is almost dry but there is still some run off, but the main issue is with the bigger stream, which he described as 'a significant cause of pollution'.

'A lot of it is down to pain housekeeping. We won't be coming down heavy handed on farmers in Duncannon,' he said.

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