Hopes that a blue flag would be flying at Duncannon Beach next year are fading fast councillors learned at the monthly meeting of New Ross Municipal District Council.
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 coming years.
Mr Kinsella said: 'This is the 13th year without a blue flag in Duncannon. The EU are looking at Duncannon Beach to be designated a bathing and shellfish area. If we don't strategically tidy up our water quality - it's having an impact on tourism.'
He said sewage is discharged into the beach at Duncannon pier from surface water pipes coming from the village.
Of 56 farmyard inspections 22 failed. 'It is a large failure rate. You are dealing with multiple different pressures. It's a very top down approach. The biggest challenge is farmer's income with the tillage and beef crisis. Money is just not there. This is why Wexford County Council took a whole new approach to Duncannon and the Ramsgrange area.'
He said farmers are still willing to invest in the environment, adding that there is a maximum payment of €5,000.
European Innovation Partnership funding of €550,000, along with funding provided by Wexford County Council, is paying for the programme, which is a three year programme. '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 13 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.'
Direct discharges from Ramsgrange are having an affect on the water quality in streams. '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. 'This project is just to do with Curraghmore and the small stream. 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.
'The average payment over three years is around €11,000. We can also fund works up to 50 per cent. We do have other problems around the county so we need to develop an effective model for the future. Positive relations with the community are vital.'
Mr Kinsella said there has been good engagement with the farmers, with 33 applications to date. In total works are being carried out on 3,500 acres involving 60 landowners and over 20 houses.
'Ramsgrange is right in the centre of it. It has creches, schools and there are problems in Ramsgrange when it comes to nitrates and phosphorous.'
Mr Kinsella said large downpours affect run off readings. A local environment awareness programme is due to be rolled out next spring. 'The waste water treatment system (for the area) will be step one.'
Describing the announcement that planning has been approved for the plant as great news for the area, Mr Kinsella said the council needs to put more pressure on Irish Water to get Ramsgrange included in the treatment plant.
'We are not going to see a huge improvement if we don't get Ramsgrange fixed. We also need to start engaging with primary schools, create courses. We need everyone on board.'
Communication is key in this regard and Mr Kinsella said a text alert system has been set up, a student from Carlow IT has been taken on and expert talks on agriculture and water quality are being organised.
An improved social media presence is also part of the plans to increase public engagement on the project.
'We are also designing our own website. We have an office rented in Ramsgrange at the family resource centre.'
Cllr Michael Sheehan said he was delighted to see the progress that has been made. 'I hope we do get Ramsgrange into that scheme.'
He highlighted the fact that three people are being prosecuted for failing to upgrade their sewerage system at the homes, adding that he knows two of the individuals just don't have the money.
Cllr Sheehan said a grant was supposed to have been made available to people to upgrade these systems, adding: 'If we are going to send a message about community engagement we need to provide supports showing that we are engaging with them.'
Mr Kinsella said: 'It was supposed to be announced that the grants were available but there was no announcement.'
Cllr Bridin Murphy said they are means tested, Mr Kinsella adding that they run to up €4,500.
Cllr Michael Whelan said: 'It is a little worrying that we mightn't get a blue flag.'
He suggested that there could be a joint venture involving works on the new sewage treatment plant and the Greenlink Interconnector. Cllr Pat Barden asked if a lump sum payment can be made to farmers and was told by Mr Kinsella that the maximum grant available is €4,500. Answering another question from Cllr Barden on whether domestic or agricultural run off is causing the water quality issue, he was told it was a combination of both. District director Eamonn Hore said the testing Mr Kinsella is doing on the stream will help secure funding in the capital programme. He said the treatment plant is not on Irish Water's Phase I programme, but the following one. 'Wexford County Council will be doing the preliminary design and paying the cost on it ourselves. We have already reserved a piece of land to accommodate it. We would be hopeful that if get the results from Ramsgrange into the stream and Duncannon but we are proceeding as if money will appear from some place.'
Cllr Whelan said the blue flag would be such a great benefit to an area that is struggling economically. 'Surely there is a way to make that case. We should push Irish Water on for their Phase II as otherwise it could be a decade away.'
Cathaoirleach Cllr John Fleming said: 'We might have an election coming so we should be encouraging all our TDs.'
Cllr Sheehan said: 'Hopefully all of the same councillors will be here next year. Well all except one.'