Dáil debates

Wednesday, 8 February 2006

Adjournment Debate.

Water and Sewerage Schemes.

9:00 pm

Photo of Catherine MurphyCatherine Murphy (Kildare North, Independent)
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To stress the importance of investing in the sewage treatment systems in both the upper and lower Liffey catchments, I will begin by discussing water supplies in the greater Dublin area. At Ballymore Eustace, Dublin City Council abstracts 250 million litres per day from the River Liffey. There are proposals to take a further 66 million litres from the river at that source in the short term, which is too much.

The river then flows through County Kildare towards Dublin until it reaches Sallins where there is a major regional sewage treatment plant. This plant has serious problems and sewage leaks into the river, particularly in wet weather when one must also contend with storm water. The river, thus contaminated by waste, then continues through north Kildare towards Dublin where the next plant it meets is Fingal County Council's water treatment plant at Leixlip where 148 million litres are abstracted and treated.

Like other plants, the level of water treatment at the plant depends on the abstracted water's cleanliness. Obviously, when an overloaded sewerage plant upstream from it leaks into the river, the level of chemical intervention is much higher to clean up the water. An engineer informed me that this process is known as enrichment, although it is not the kind of enrichment for which I would wish. The plant serves Fingal, some of Dublin city, South Dublin County Council, north Kildare and Meath, all of which consequently have an interest in this issue.

Once the river passes by the Leixlip water treatment plant, it flows past the Leixlip sewage treatment plant which is also earmarked for expansion. I understand that this proposal may be funded. Local residents in Sallins noticed that sewage was flowing into the river and obviously were concerned about the quality of their living environment. Given the level of development that has taken place in that area, I can understand their concern.

Kildare County Council has written to me and to others in a categoric manner. It stated:

Given the unprecedented growth in the . . . catchment in recent years, and the combined nature of the network, both wastewater and surface water, the Sallins pumping station, along with other elements of the network have reached breaking point. The result is that in particularly in times of heavy rainfall, the network becomes overloaded and overflows occur at the pumping station into nearby watercourses.

In other words, into what will end up being our drinking water. The letter goes on to state:

Kildare County Council are fully aware of the situation and as far back as 1999 Kildare County Council commissioned a report to identify infrastructural requirements to meet current and future needs. This report was completed in 2002 and forwarded to the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government . . . [The] overall cost of the proposed scheme is €65 million, which is obviously outside the scope of Kildare County Council's own finances and hence the need for departmental approval and associated funding. Kildare County Council has constantly pressed the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government for approval of the overall report to allow it to proceed to the next stage . . . [The council] met with the Department in December 2005 . . . [and at that] meeting it was agreed to progress some of the recommendations . . . [to deal] with the short-term issues.

What is the problem? This work is necessary and those people who bought houses and have come to live in Kildare will not move out. They will not stop running their taps or flushing their toilets. Why postpone this work and damage the river for other uses? Why pump more chemicals into the population instead of cleaning up the water at source? The River Liffey's primary use has been designated as the supply of drinking water. We should stop using it as a toilet and should fund the necessary projects.

Photo of Batt O'KeeffeBatt O'Keeffe (Minister of State with special responsibility for Housing, Urban Renewal and Developing Areas, Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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I thank the Deputy for raising this important issue. A huge range of important water services infrastructure is being progressed in Kildare at present with the support of unprecedented Exchequer funding from the national development plan. The investment in such infrastructure has made a key contribution to the economic growth that has benefited every part of Ireland, with Kildare very much to the fore in this regard.

The schedule of new water and sewerage schemes planned and in progress for Kildare under the Department's water services investment programme 2005 to 2007, which was published late last year, provides firm evidence of the Government's determination to safeguard the environment while at the same time providing for new housing, new jobs and all the other requirements of a successful and still growing economy.

The water services investment programme has allocated funding for water and sewerage schemes worth more than €220 million for Kildare, all of which will be put in place as soon as possible. Many towns and villages can look forward to new or upgraded sewerage facilities. Sewerage schemes valued at more than €90 million are under construction or are scheduled to start over the next two years.

The quality of waste water discharged into the River Liffey from the present Leixlip and Osberstown treatment plants is well within the prescribed treatment standards. In this context, it is worth noting that two thirds of all drinking water abstracted from the Liffey is taken at Ballymore Eustace, which is upstream of the two waste water plants. Drinking water abstracted from the Liffey at Leixlip is protected by the high standards of waste water treatment at the Osberstown plant.

The objective of the upper and lower Liffey valley sewerage schemes is to ensure that Kildare County Council can continue to maintain the highest possible standards for waste water discharges to guarantee drinking water standards, while at the same time supporting continuing economic and social development in the county for the foreseeable future.

More than €38 million of the planned €220 million investment in water services in Kildare has been committed to the upper and lower Liffey valley sewerage schemes. These major infrastructural undertakings involve a combination of upgraded and extended waste water treatment facilities and sewage collection networks that will serve more than a dozen towns and villages in the Liffey catchment, including Kilcock, Clane, Celbridge, Maynooth, Leixlip, Naas and Newbridge.

I am as anxious as the Deputy to see these schemes reach construction and completion as quickly as possible and my Department is doing everything it can to ensure that this happens. However, the Deputy will appreciate that multi-million euro projects that are funded by the taxpayer must go through detailed planning and development processes to ensure that they meet their intended objectives, that they are designed and constructed in an economical manner and that they produce treated waste water, or drinking water as the case may be, to a standard that meets national and EU requirements.

In May 2005, my Department approved Kildare County Council's proposals to proceed with work on an advance section of the lower Liffey valley scheme at Straffan, which I understand is nearing completion. The council's contract documents for the major elements of this scheme are also under examination in my Department. I expect these to be approved within the next few weeks. Kildare County Council will then be in a position to seek tenders for the scheme which will bring it to the construction stage.

The council's revised preliminary report for the upper Liffey valley sewerage scheme is being assessed by my Department. Here again the council can also expect a decision in the near future. Following this approval the council will be able to proceed with the preparation of contract documents for this scheme.

To sum up, my Department is fully committed to getting these important infrastructural schemes started quickly. To this end, I assure the Deputy we will complete the assessment of both schemes with a minimum of delay with a view to authorising Kildare County Council to advance them to construction as soon as possible.