Adjournment Debate. - Lough Derg Pollution.

Thank you, Sir, for giving us the opportunity to raise this matter. For the past six weeks there has been a serious difficulty in Lough Derg, the premier fishing and pleasure lake in this country, with regard to thousands of dead fish, particularly bream. Various State agencies including the Environmental Protection Agency, the central fisheries board and the ESB fisheries conservation section have been doing research on this lake for many years. Under the direction of Dr. Ciarán McCarthy of UCG, serious research has been carried out on the present problem. The conclusion of this research is that the fish deaths are primarily the result of environmental conditions in the lake. I thank you sincerely for giving us the opportunity to raise this matter. For the past two weeks we have tried to have questions answered by various Ministers but there are so many State agencies and Government Ministers and Departments involved that nobody wants to take absolute responsibility for any problem in this lake.

There are thousands of dead bream all around Lough Derg, which borders five counties in the midwestern and midlands regions. We want the dead bream removed immediately from the lakeshore and the environs of the lake. If there is incessant rain these dead fish, which are at present decaying, will be washed back into the lake and cause further pollution.

Serious pollution has entered the lake due to the inadequate sewerage schemes in all the surrounding towns and we want the Minister immediately to sanction the Lough Derg protection catchment scheme and the various sewerage schemes that are necessary to this problem will not recur. The tourism, fishing and angling interests in this entire area are seriously worried about this season if immediate action is not taken and firm commitments are not given tonight.

The Lough Derg catchment area is one of our great natural resources. It is with great regret that we feel obliged to raise this question in the House. The stench of thousands of decaying fish can be smelt around the shoreline and a disaster will follow if there is not an immediate clean up and if resources are not given to the various State agencies to carry out that work. A major EU cohesion scheme which will assist all the local authorities in that catchment area to provide tertiary sewage treatment facilities, as well as a major scheme for Portumna, is in hand and the first tranche of funding has already been sanctioned. I was personally involved in this scheme when I was Minister for the Environment because of the concerns expressed about the eutrophication and enrichment of that lake.

The present problem is acute because of the fishing season, the mayfly and the fact that we are approaching the start of the tourist season. People who have invested very heavily in tourism facilities and new tourism products could be absolutely devastated if that clean up is not done immediately. Time is against us but we ask the Minister and his colleagues to make sure that resources are made available immediately for that purpose. The ongoing clean up of the lake and the other related matters can wait but this particular matter cannot. We urge on the Minister the necessity of getting this work in hand immediately. Save the jobs in the tourism and fishing industries in the area. Nothing less than immediate action will be accepted.

, 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.