, Limerick East): I share the Deputy's concern about the recent reports on fish in Lough Derg. There are a number of unexplained aspects, in particular that only bream are affected and other fish species such as salmon and trout which are more sensitive to changes in the ecological conditions of waters have been unaffected. I am not aware of adverse effects on birds or other forms of wildlife in the area.
I understand the Electricity Supply Board, which owns the fishery rights to the lake, is seeking to establish the factors responsible for the death of bream and samples have been forwarded to University College Galway for analysis. The Shannon Regional Fisheries Board is also attempting to determine the causes. The information available to me at this stage is that definitive findings have not been obtained from these investigations. Efforts will continue.
The initial reports concerned parts of Lough Derg in which Galway County Council has jurisdiction. Sampling conducted by the council has shown the lake meets the statutory standards for waters intended for human consumption. The council is concerned to ensure that the public can have confidence in the quality of water supplies taken from the lake and accordingly has instructed the Western Health Board to increase the level of monitoring of drinking water. In addition, the Environmental Protection Agency is arranging to intensify water monitoring in the lake. The council, the fisheries board and the ESB are working together to collect, remove and dispose of all dead bream. While there is no evidence at this time to suggest that environmental factors may be responsible, it is opportune to put on record the importance the Government attaches to protecting Lough Derg and the measures being taken to tackle potential sources of pollution.
The lake has been identified as a sensitive area for the purposes of the EU Directive on urban waste water treatment and a major programme of investment is being implemented by the Minister for the Environment to upgrade sewage treatment facilities within the lake catchment. This will involve the provision of secondary treatment facilities and or phosphorus reduction facilities at Ballinasloe, Birr, Nenagh, Roscrea, and Tullamore at an estimated cost of £6.5 million. Planning and construction of sewerage schemes will also go ahead at Athlone and Monksland, County Roscommon at a cost of £2.85 million. Sanction has also been given to the planning and design stages for Portumna, Clara, and Moate sewerage schemes. Pump-out facilities to cater for sewage from cruisers on the Shannon have been provided or are under construction at 11 locations including Dromineer, Mountshannon, Shannon-bridge, Ballina, and Portumna.
Steps are also being taken to deal with the impact of agriculture on water quality. The control of farmyard pollution and rural environment protection grant schemes operated by the Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry are making a substantial contribution in this regard. In addition, the Minister for the Environment has brought forward an amendment to the Water Pollution Acts to allow local authorities to serve notices on farmers requiring them to prepare nutrient management plans where authorities consider this to be necessary for the purposes of preventing, eliminating or minimising water pollution. The objective of these plans is to strike the right balance between crop nutrient requirements, taking account of nutrients already in the soil and to be supplied from farm waste and chemical fertiliser applications, and water pollution prevention considerations. These powers will complement existing statutory provisions and will leave local authorities well placed to deal with nutrient losses from agriculture where eutrophication problems arise in lakes and rivers.
All possible efforts will continue to establish as quickly as possible the reasons for the recent fish deaths. The various agencies involved, together with relevant Departments, will assess the situation in detail when the factors responsible are established and will adopt any further counter-measures which may be appropriate.
The reply from the Minister for the Environment deals explicitly with the two issues raised by the Deputies — the collection of the dead bream from the shore environs of the lake and the commitment to the Lough Derg catchment protection scheme.