A top Northern Ireland Water director appeared unaware the firm is extracting 60 per cent of Londonderry’s annual domestic water supply just downstream of the biggest illegal landfill dump in Europe, during a meeting of the Stormont Infrastructure Committee just before the Assembly went into recess for the summer.
Ronan Larkin, Director of Finance and Regulation, wasn’t aware the NI Water Carmoney treatment plant, which is just a couple of hundred metres downstream from the notorious Gorticross superdump, extracts drinking water from the Faughan for over 50,000 people.
During an exchange with People Before Profit MLA and Infrastructure Committee member Eamonn McCann that involved other NI Water directors, he was eventually put right by Sean McAleese, the company’s Director of Customer Services.
Mr McCann asked Mr Larkin about the potential for toxins to leach from the dump at Mobuoy Road into the Faughan, which in turn would supply raw water to Carmoney.
“At what stage does Northern Ireland Water become involved in schemes or repair or whatever to do with water quality? I have the River Faughan in mind, and there could be a problem there. I know that water testing is happening and have seen the figures,” said Mr McCann.
“I am not questioning that at the moment, but it strikes me that we may reach the stage - engineers and others, not only from Northern Ireland Water, say that it is possible — when leaching from dumps, legal or illegal, will begin to pose a threat to water quality. At what stage do you become involved?
“Presumably, it will be too late if you suddenly discover that something is wrong with water quality rather than having had a say in how you plan the dump, how you seal it off and whether you remove stuff or seal it off from leaching into the river. There is considerable concern about this in the Faughan area,” he added.
At this point, Mr Larkin expressed doubts about whether the Faughan was used for drinking water or not.
“If we were abstracting from that river, and I do not think that we are abstracting from the River Faughan, Sean?” said Mr Larkin.
Mr McCann responded: “I thought that you were,” to which Mr McAleese confirmed: “I think we are.”
In fact, Carmoney now meets 60 per cent of Londonderry’s annual water needs, serving over 50,000 citizens.
Mr Larkin said the main responsibility for ensuring the Faughan is not contaminated lies with the Northern Ireland Enviornment Agency (NIEA) but that NI Water views the potential for pollution of raw water serving its plants very seriously.
“We would be interested in the raw water quality that comes to our treatment works and the impact that it could have on treatment and the cost of treatment.
“We would take a view on that. The primary responsibility will be with the Environment Agency to make sure that the dump is constructed in such a way that it would not leach,” he said.
Meanwhile, Mr McCann is urging people to attend a public meeting in the City Hotel on Thursday, July 21, at 7pm, to launch a campaign for a public inquiry and to demand “immediate and competent action to remove the toxic environmental threat, which the existence of the Mobuoy dump represents to the economic and physical health of everyone living in this region.”
Speakers at the launch will include Mr McCann MLA, Dean Blackwood, Town Planner/Director of Faughan Anglers Association, as well as representatives from Zero Waste NW and Enagh Sustainable Development Forum.