Concern over blue-green algae on Lough Erne

THERE is concern the continual pumping of untreated sewage into Lough Erne could harm local tourism and trigger toxic blue-green algae blooms on the waterway as the weather starts to heat up.
As reported many times by this paper, the issue of raw sewage being pumped into the Erne has been an ongoing problem for years now.
Despite having established itself as a hub of water-based activities, the problem is particularly pronounced in Enniskillen, where the odour of sewage is a familiar smell on the town-centre streets.
A Freedom of Information request by Erne Anglers last year revealed an estimated 250,000 tonnes of sewage is pumped into the River Erne around the town annually.
This is because many of the town’s combined sewer overflows (CSO) and emergency overflows are frequently being pushed beyond their capacity, especially following rain, resulting in untreated waste being pumped into the waters surrounding Ireland’s only island town.
With untreated waste even visible in the water at times, the NI Environment Agency (NIEA) advises swimming only at designated points around Enniskillen, and has stated no one should swim anywhere in the water for up to three days following heavy rain.
Now, while there are no plans for actual work on the issue any time soon, the Department for Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) has launched a review of the current Enniskillen Collection System, including the overflow pipes.
The review is aimed at providing DAERA with detailed information on the town’s current wastewater infrastructure.
The local Council has submitted a response to this review, highlighting its concerns about the situation and referring to “significant deficiencies within the existing sewerage network.”
This response noted much of the Enniskillen waste water treatment works were operating at full capacity, with the Council urging NI Water to prioritise the infrastructure for any further upgrades.
Referring to the deep concern regarding sewage and untreated wastewater was being pumped into the River Erne and other water bodies, the Council noted “such overflows have a negative environmental impact on the natural river systems and a resulting negative impact on the ability to attract watersport tourism to the area.”
The draft response was agreed by members of the Council’s regeneration and community committee last week, along with an amendment by Cllr Diana Armstrong who called for it to be “strengthened” by adding in concerns about blue-green algae.
While potentially toxic algae blooms are a naturally occurring phenomena, they are worsened by runoff from farms, and by human waste discharges.
As seen on Lough Neagh last year and, to a lesser extent, here in Fermanagh – where bathers reported falling ill after bathing in Lower Lough Erne – blue-green algae can be environmentally destructive and harmful towards both humans and animals.
Cllr Armstrong said, “We really have to preserve our waterways.
“We cannot afford to have [blue-green algae] come into Lough Erne and our waterways. Everybody knows what happened Lough Neagh, but it definitely was here for a time.”

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The Fermanagh Herald is published by North West of Ireland Printing & Publishing Company Limited, trading as North-West News Group.
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