Snails rule: Thousands of Sligo householders left to put up with contaminated water source

Two European laws on protected species ‘coming into conflict with each other.’

Sligo News File Online.

Snails have got in the way of an urgently needed upgrade for the Lough Talt public water supply.

Vertigo geyeri

Thousands of householders rely on the scheme which is heavily contaminated.

However, plans to improve the supply have run foul of families of  whorls said to be living on the shore of the lake.

Whorls, a class of snail, are protected by Irish and EU legislation as are other species whose natural habitat is the Talt.

The Planning Board has sided with Sligo County Council and refused permission for a new treatment system to safeguard the health of the numerous water users presently drawing the water for domestic purposes from the lake.

Inspector for the Planning Board Dolores McCague has reported the grounds on which the local County Council has refused Irish Water permission to proceed with a system designed to ensure water sourced from the lake would comply with EU standards.

In agreeing with the council, the inspector proposed that the Irish Water plans be rejected. The Board subsequently accepted the recommendation.

However, the inspector alluded to a provision known as Imperative Reasons of Overriding Public Interest. If no alternative to abstraction from the existing water source exists, “notwithstanding adverse effects,” consideration would have to be given to whether IROPI arises, she said. That situation is provided for in Appropriate Assessment, Stage 4 and was referred to in the Planning Authority’s further information request. “Such an exception has not been invoked, and the fourth stage of the process has not been carried out.”

Some TDs are unhappy that because of the pre-eminent status which the Government and the EU has granted to the Vertigo Geyeri and other species works essential to safeguarding the health of the local population have had to be given the thumbs down.

An MEP has also reportedly been on about “conflicting EU laws.” However, the Board Inspector may have just hit on the solution, a process through which the people of South Sligo won’t have to be denied a safe supply of water because of the presence of molluscs and their neighbouring species currently living in or near the source of the supply.

The Talt has been the source of raw water for the existing scheme since the 1940s. A Survey conducted for the Water Framework Directive in 2014 found the lake to be home to five fish species: the three-spined stickleback, arctic char, eel, perch, and brown trout.