Turloughs, Floods and Wells

Health Issues and Challenges for our times

By Albert Siggins

This story is nothing new

Since the year 2008 was one noted for a poor, wet summer and floods making their power felt even at that time of the year it is timely to look at the climatic and hydrological contexts that bring forward these conditions on a regular basis. In 2009 it was noted that for three successive years the months of July were very wet, even though the month of June in 2009 was excellent and fodder was gathered with little trouble. The turlough type lake beds which are normally dry at this time of year all had plenty of water remaining and looked as if they were going to remain that way and unlikely to dry up completely. A weather forecast from RTE in the first week of September 2009 included the statement that the summer just past was one of the wettest since records began in the 1860s.

An article in the Agricultural Gazette for Nov. 5th, 1877 draws attention to the winter flood situation in South Roscommon which reminds us that this story is nothing new and remains with us year after year. A typographical error resulted in the amusing spelling of the noble river Suck being made into ‘River Luck’ and as the gazetteer was published in Britain and the journalistic copy being handwritten the mistake was understandable. It almost makes the article like one of those rare stamps that are worth a good deal on account of a printing error!

It is worth quoting  in full to get the writer’s wonder at the inundation of water particularly near Ballinasloe:

“In this part of the country we are particularly free from such varieties of weather as “sunshine and showers”. In fact of late “sunshine” sounds to us more like a mythical delusion we read of, and instead of “occasional showers”, we rejoice in the dull monotony of a downright wet season. One would naturally expect that we should be naturally favoured with an extra amount of moisture here, on account of the immense floods which prevail in the neighbouring district. An enthusiast of irrigation would have his most sanguine wishes on the subject thoroughly gratified were he to stand on the Ballinasloe bridges of the river Luck, and see the rather successful endeavours of that river to inundate the whole country lying near its dangerous precincts. Your Thames of England, your Shannon of Ireland, must play second to the enormous proportions the Luck has lately attained in many places. We are not at all fain to take pride out of our river’s devastating floods, mais helas!. We are, on the contrary, compelled  rather to consider it a disgrace to the present advanced stage of scientific agriculture that so much land should be wasted, and so much destruction caused by a river which is by nature placed so easily  within the power and energy of man to drain and rectify. I shall not say whose fault it is that the Luck is not drained, nor shall I recapitulate the subject at all, as it is already familiar to most of my reader, but I may mention that to any person who thoroughly understands the circumstances in connection with the river Luck, and the immense waste and destruction it causes, it is a wonder(to them) that any one of common sense, and professing an interest in the welfare of this country , could oppose an operation which would be productive of such beneficial results to the neighbouring counties of Roscommon and Galway as the drainage of the above mentioned river.”

Mowing the long grass as it stood full two-thirds under water

Isaac Weld in 1832 was well aware of flooding in Co.Roscommon and made comments as to how there could be very little solution:

In noting how eel-weirs and mill-dams on the River Suck impeded the passage of the waters but “the removal of these natural bars is nevertheless an affair of moment which requires deliberation, because whilst it is possible that one reach of the river was benefited , the evils might be aggravated in another”(p.100). Hydrology engineer Louis E. Rydell in his 1956 Report interestingly repeats the same assessment (see below). Weld goes on further to say  “On some parts of the shores, the low lands, called callows, offered the most luxuriant growth of coarse grasses, which during favourable seasons yield ample returns to the proprietors; but when the floods take place during the hay harvest, the difficulties of saving it become great…On these lowlands, at the base of the limestone gravel hills, near the Seven Churches of Clonmacnoise, on the King’s Co. shore, I saw in the autumn of 1830, men stripped nearly up to the hips, actually mowing the long grass as it stood full two-thirds under water, whilst others dragged it out, and carried it on their shoulders to the banks to be dried” (p.158). He also observes the bridge of Athlone causing floods:

“…..for the arches being only nine in number, and of the old construction of the time of Elizabeth, narrow in the span, with massive piers between, the bridge operates as a dam in time of floods, throwing back the waters upon the shores of the lake, where thousands of valuable acres are annually inundated to the great loss of the proprietors”. Water shortages, swallow-holes and disappearing turloughs

Photo:Ballinturly lake frozen solid in Jan.2010. View from Castlestrange hill, Fuerty, Co Roscommon

Ballinturly lake frozen solid in Jan.2010. View from Castlestrange hill, Fuerty, Co Roscommon

Albert Siggins

The shortage of drinking water in Roscommon town is beautifully described by Isaac Weld in his book about Co. Roscommon in 1832. It appears that Loughnaneane, a turlough to the west of Roscommon Castle, is likely to be interconnected to the spring wells once used in the town , at the Square, two in  Henry Street and St Coman’s well now beside Dunnes Stores. Weld speaks about one at Circular Road, near the Abbey and the present National School:

“ But in the course of the summer, the water is sure to fail, many times, to the great inconvenience of the inhabitant ; for the deficiency of water in the town is general, and so severely felt , that the very puddle, at last, becomes an object of contention ”.

Lake of the Birds

At the north west end of the town is Loughnaneane (Lake of the Birds), a celebrated turlough skirting a low callow area near the castle. Due to extensive drainage works in the 19th cent. much of the winter level has been reduced. The siting of the castle at the lake shore in the 13th century was a strategic matter as water from the turlough was let through the back gate under a see-saw type bridge and also into a ditch surrounding the walls. A mid 17th cent. document , the Civil Survey  gives us an idea of the terrain:

“Loughnanean on ye Castle Lough, being Turlough full of bullrushes containing  80 acres profitable. More a parcel of land being pasturable in a dry summer.”

In the mid 18th century Loughnaneane was called the Wilderness Lough (from map of 1736 by Francis Plunket) and in the time of James I ( Irish Patent Rolls of James I, 18)) was called “a standing pool of 80 acres”. It would appear that the Lough continued to be both an important water source and a defensive feature for centuries in Roscommon town.

Another great turlough is sited in mid Roscommon, Lough Funcheonagh. Weld describes it thus:

Lough Funcheon receives two small streams from the north-west , but discharges none; the surplus waters are supposed to pass off into subterranean channels, through swallow-holes at its southern extremity”

On occasions Lough Funcheonagh  disappears completely almost overnight leaving fish stranded on the lake bed. It has been the focus of a number of scientific studies to see where the water flows to and  great descriptive scenarios of this phenomenon were related by the late Jack Kilcline who lived locally.

In an article he penned for the Rindoon Journal in 2004 he said that the lake “had a mind of its own”. He also said that a water tracing experiment conducted in 1996 by a scientific team from Trinity College using a dye or optical brightener fed into the lake showed that it travelled some miles south underground to a spring at Atteagh Corn Mill in Kiltoom within a few days. There is a story too told about efforts to stop the lake disappearing a hundred years ago organised by the local landlords, the Pims of Ardmullen, helped by their tenantry. Straw used to stuff holes in the bed of the lake was later found in the Shannon at Kilmore, St. John’s parish, so Lough Funcheonagh is indeed a mysterious place.

Lost in the mists of time

The origin of the river Suck name an tSuca is unclear. An Brainse Logainmeacha, Placenames Branch, Dept of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, say that there are a number of references in Early Irish Literature to An tSuca  but the root word is wrapped in a web of uncertainty and lost in the mists of time. There are very few words extant in Old and Middle Irish ( up to 1200 AD) on which to base possibilities, either, such as succín ( modern Irish suicín) “amber”( Seán McGlinchy, An Brainse Logainmeacha and Fiachra Mac Gabhann, pers. comm.).

Like numerous places in the limestone rich midlands, Co Roscommon has a vast web of underground water channels in the hidden caverns of which is called the water table. In some places this water table is above the surface in winter and causes lakes to form, but then disappears again in summer. In some areas where the flow is near larger rivers the water can disappear rapidly in summer and reappear in winter. From once the normal extent of inundation is known the inconvenience is manageable to farmers because for hundreds of years allowance has been made for these turloughs making their appearance or rivers widening their banks. Even roads were carefully planned so as not to be in the path of these rising lakes and this can be seen easily at Ballybride and Racecourse Road near Roscommon Town where the annual winter floodline of Loughnaneane was given a wide birth. The action of water travelling through the ground rock had a self-purifying effect and this can be seen with the value attached to springs coming from the ground with sparkling clear water. The value of farms in days gone by were enhanced by the fact of having these springs. Nowadays despite so much progress in so many areas of life regarding health the effluent from animal and human waste is finding its way into water courses and eventually into the underground aquafirs( turloughs) and so on to our drinking water.

Photo:Pak Gately rowing his Cliath Thulcha or flood raft in Dysart, August, 1962

Pak Gately rowing his Cliath Thulcha or flood raft in Dysart, August, 1962

National Museum of Ireland

The Role of Filters

For some years now advanced filtration systems have helped water quality both in county council generated supplies and rural water schemes. Claims for filtration systems  encompass points on removing turbidity , improving taste and odour, reducing lead , rust and asbestos, removing pathogenic bacteria, reducing effect of pesticides and industrial solvents, reducing bacterial growth, removal of parasitic cysts and many other things. Domestic units can be installed under and on counter tops, filtered at point of entry or point of use. Some exceed EPA standards and claim to make water biologically safe. An interesting fact is that 90 per cent of water is used in the bathroom and the remainder is the focus of purification, which gives the impression of a lot of treated water that is wasted.   In times gone by human and animal waste was mostly in dry form and reverted quickly back to nature at the place where it was produced seldom getting near watercourses. Today with liquefied waste being the normal effluent it can be found miles away in rivers and lakes in diluted form shaping substances for harmful bacteria to multiply on. Farm effluent from silage and slurry is harmful too but we all know that people have to work and live in these environments and these matters have to regulated and managed for the good of all. Lack of regulation can be seen in Galway City where waters emanating from Lough Corrib had a dangerous bacterial infection and caused a severe drinkable water shortage for months. Apart from fish kills freshwater mollusca too have been badly hit by polluted waters. These mollusca normally lived for many decades and live ones are now rarely found where they were once very plentiful . Consulting Engineers are now facilitating site suitability reports and percolation tests to EPA Guidelines. New developments in peat based soil disposal are now on stream and assist in the safe disposal of waste to good ecological standards.

Turloughs and wetlands of themselves have valuable anti-fluke insect activity e.g. the fluke snail. The grass remaining after the winter floods are often the favoured variety for livestock. Farmers in callow areas are well aware of these factors and accept inundation in winter knowing that the soil reaps a harvest from this treatment. The trouble is when the floods exceed their normal levels and life for farmers and farm stock is difficult. James Moran, Correal, Athleague, has raised the virtues of turlaghs and wetlands in a recent article in the Roscommon People for World Wetlands Week. He explained how reed beds and other flora, while supporting a large range of insect, bird and animal life act as a filter system trapping nutrient rich waters and combat pollution further down stream. This is the type of environment found along the river Suck catchment area of west Roscommon and east Galway, a mix of wetland in winter and sweet pasture in summer. Cattle are often noticed up to their knees in wet meadow seeking favoured grasses while ignoring upland grasses. A series of turloughs interconnect in the Fuerty and Correal areas. In former times during flood they worked their way through to the Hind river. Much interesting phenomena occur here like the great force of water that bursts out of the hill at Moyliss townland during winter. A similar phenomenon can be seen at at the Ogulla holy spring well in winter where a great force of water roars from the ground . This thins to a trickle in summer. In summer time the inspection of swallow or sink-holes is interesting as these are the outlets for the last pools of water disappearing underground to a lower water-table. This is an underground world often of solid rock interspersed with large fissures and rugged channels that have been cut through over millennia linking many water tables over vast distances. Where the Correal Lough drains into a swallow hole in summer it is called Poll an Mearla and where Ballinturly Lough drains away is called Poll an Éisc. It is good to see these age- old names being retained and used in that locality.

Little could be done

In 1956 an interesting report on the feasibility of draining the River Suck into the Shannon through a diversion into the River Hind near Derrineel and then into the Shannon was prepared by Louis E. Rydell of the U.S. Corps of Engineers. He had been asked by the American Ambassador to Ireland, William Taft, through Liam Cosgrave , Minister of External Affairs to advise on a possible solution of the Shannon flood problem . Rydell was engaged in this task in the summer of 1955. His main thrust of opinion on examining the situation was that  “ a satisfactory solution to these problems can be reached only through a broad basin-wide approach. The hydraulic factor , land use and economic factors are too closely interwoven for any piecemeal approach. Drainage improvements on one of the tributaries, for instance, might solve that problem, but by accelerating the flood run-off might create another problem on the main stem. Channel improvements on the main–stem might reduce overbank flooding, but would send even more flood water to pass Ardnacrusha unused. Storage in the lakes would serve both power and flood control, but is only obtainable to a limited extent. Possibilities for river diversions are strictly limited by basin topography.” It can be seen from this that little could be done and the problem of flooding was for years an election slogan never to be realised.

Flooding through 2008 drew comment from many sources. In August the IFA Vice-President,  Michael Silke said  “ the State urgently needs to introduce a national flood management plan..”, while on RTE radio Tom Sherlock, Principal Officer in the Office of Flood Management, OPW, said that 400 million was to be spent on flood relief up to 2013. In January, 2009 flooding was experienced in houses and shops in Clonmel.The floods beat the town’s long term prevention works and it had been flooded too the previous year. Heavy snow and floods in February and Dublin traffic came to a standstill. There was bad flooding in Roscommon as well as other midland counties.

Farmers donated fodder and provided accommodation for evacuees

Floods of high magnitude hit the Clonown area in 1954 where the water rose over several months of bad weather. Winter flooding was expected as usual but that year exceeded all expectations and farmers despite having adapted  to suit the conditions it was several weeks before the levels were back to normal flood conditions. Immense damage was caused to households, barns, stables and fodder rotted due to submersion. There were summer floods and the wettest October for nearly fifty years that year. There was also heavy rain in November, so a combination of bad weather factors resulted in the worst flood conditions in living memory. Christmas was a very wet affair for many but parties were organised by the Red Cross Society and neighbouring farmers donated fodder and provided accommodation for evacuees. It was easy to lay the blame on the erection of the hydro-electric station of  Ardnacrusha in the 1920s which would have caused a certain amount of back-up of the floodwaters but back in 1873 floods just as bad had hit the area and were widely reported in newspapers of the time. All subsequent floods were benchmarked by the 1954 emergency as the most severe example ever experienced.

Photo:Lough Ree in flood Dec. 2009. Note how much land is inundated

Lough Ree in flood Dec. 2009. Note how much land is inundated

Climate Predictions

A recent report for the EPA on “Climate Change:Refining the Impacts for Ireland”, by Prof. John Sweeney and Partners, Geography Dept., NUI, Maynooth, gives glimpses of the landscape in decades to come . The report speaks of the bogs cracking open, the mountain lakes drying up and sand dunes being washed away due to climate change. The shock value of this future landscape makes us wonder how we will adjust. His team worked with a regional computer model, calculating the likelihood of floods and droughts occurring. Despite, as he puts it, a cascade of uncertainty, Prof. Sweeney has downscaled global scenarios to make predictions about rivers and mountain ranges here. He dips into a whole ensemble of scenarios to average and distil the probable likelihoods. On a chapter on water resources  he speaks of “The General Likelihood Uncertainty Estimation” (GLUE) procedure. The pace of change in the natural countryside will be far too rapid for adjustments in many species that live in specialised habitats. Some may be able to migrate through “wild” corridors. It shocks to be told too, that by mid century the few fens we have could be reduced by forty percent, with similar losses of bogs and even more of turloughs. This comes from a calculation of “climatic envelopes” of rainfall, humidity, temperature and so on , that allow such habitats to exist. The uncomfortable feeling is that the world will spin on regardless, adopting these changes, and we will miss these profound future events. The scenario predicted surely would utterly change the landscape and the biodiversity already existing would be greatly affected. It was timely that Roscommon Co. Council in late 2007 sent out to the public and interested bodies a Draft County Biodiversity Plan which invited comments theron. Some of the points listed  in the report spoke of:  Biodiversity is the variety of life . It includes everything around us from the tiniest insect to the largest tree and that Co. Roscommon had a wide variety of habitats. The plan set three objectives :

Living in harmony with nature

Knowing about nature leads to caring- and encourage people to learn more.

Lets look after our nature. Looking after biodiversity is everyone’s responsibility.

All floods are not the same

Calamitous flooding has hit the UK hard too in the last number of years. Property damage has escalated to such heights that insurance risk has risen steeply for people living in risk areas. Actuaries and hydrologists have tried to predict how many properties might be at risk. In England, the Environment Agency now puts it at one in six. One reason for the confusion is that all floods are not the same. The most spectacular damage is done by rivers or the sea, where public defences are the responsibility of the Environment Agency, and where the risks are relatively easy to calculate. The problem is that two-thirds of the damage in 2007 was caused by surface water , which is the responsibility of so many fragmented and conflicting interests that it is effectively no body’s responsibility at all. Last year the Royal Institute of British Architects,and the Norwich Union , ran a design competition for “flood-proof houses for the future”. This threw up a broad range of ideas and primarily there are four ways in which to protect a house against floods: 1-you can make it completely watertight. 2- You can raise it on a mound or stilts.3- You can channel the water away from it.4- You can allow water into a “resilient” lower floor that is easily drained and cleaned. Many ideas from the mundane to the madcap resulted from this competition and as so often is the case the most practical one is maintenance of drains first and foremost. The waterproof concrete membrane of front gardens that cover London alone amounts to over 5 thousand football pitches. This prevents rainwater soaking away naturally and puts great pressure on drainage systems. Bolting the stable after the horse has drowned , it is now illegal to pave more than five square metres of a garden without planning permission. Drainage is so important that a plan known as “ sustainable drainage systems”, Suds,  was given special attention in the competition . Following the floods of 2007 the government rushed a draft Flood and water Management Bill. Among other things, it promises to reduce the severity and frequency of flooding, to compel local authorities to draw up “management plans” for surface water, to discourage building on flood plains, and to make developers install Suds. Time will tell if the plan makes a difference. ( from article Home and Dry, Sunday Times Magazine 16.8.09)

Dangers in Drinking Water

In April, 2009 the EPA in a report on water said that more than a third of the country’s drinking water was threatened with contamination because of poor safety standards. They said that over three hundred cases of public supplies risked a repeat of the devastating Galway pollution scare which shut down taps for five months in 2007. Inadequate treatment plants and continuing use of out-of-date equipment were the main reasons why the water quality was poor and a high percentage of drinking water was lost through leaking pipes. In Galway hoteliers and businesses were devastated by the outbreak of the cryptosporidium parasite, which doctors warned was life threatening. Dara Lynott , director of the EPA’s Office of Environmental Enforcement , called for continued investment in the infrastructure to continue delivering clean drinking water-“clean drinking water is vital to sustain our health and well-being , and we rely upon it, particularly those involved in the services , manufacturing and tourism industries”. River quality according to this report was poor and many in the north-west were polluted including the River Jiggy in Roscommon town which is a little known stream that emanates from  Loughnaneane and another at Creevy which work their way into a larger stream at Ballypheason and then onto the Hind river.

Kathy Sinnott, then Independent MP for Munster, commenting on this report said that : “there is a certain irony in that a country blessed with abundant water , we should have so many problems maintaining clean supplies  to our householders”. She went on to say  “ that treatment plants alone could not meet the challenge of supplying clean water. Turloughs ( aquifirs) and lakes had supplied Ireland for centuries with clean water, but in recent years these sources have come under extreme pressure and have suffered damage from over – quarrying and dumping. Community groups were fighting a rearguard action against ‘development’ and the difficulty of adequate protection of pure water supplies by local planning and licensing authorities has led to an over reliance on our rivers as a source of drinking water”.

Ennis and Galway Water Supply Threat

Media reportsin May, 2009 speak of Co. Council officials letting thirty per cent of a local watersupply go untreated despite the outbreak of a sickness bugand they were then being threatened bycourt action bythe EPA. This body accused Clare Co. Council of breaking a directive during summer 2008 when called on to stop allowing water to bypass a filtration unit at a three million euro temporary treatment plant. The plant was to supposed to kill the cryptosporidium bug in the drinking water. The bug typically brings on abdominal cramps, fatigue, nausea, vomiting and fever.  In June, 2005 a partial boil notice was introduced and has since remained in force for 30,000 residents. In a letter to the EPA on the issue last year, senior council engineer, Tom Tiernan, said that the move to restore supplies by partially bypassing the filtration plant was done in consultation with the HSE and EPA. The court case was due to be heard in June. By early June reports of the partial boil notice was set to be lifted and the phrase used was “ the operator of the plant was getting it right” .The EPA were carrying out an audit of the town’s water supplies in mid June and they were confident of  “a good outcome”. This shows the difficulties today in supplying clean water to enlarged populations in many towns.

In July, 2009 in an RTE report, Gerald O’Leary of the EPA said that half of the water treatment plants around the country i.e. the secondary waste water treatment facilities were defective. A quarter were non-compliant due to a lack of sampling. On Urban Water Discharges he said that the quality of treated effluent was very poor. The EU legislation was now eighteen years old. Ninety- three locations were without treatment. Six percent of overall volume were complying with the EU standard. There is now a licensing system with sanctions, recently posted, with up to ten million euro fine or jail. In early July of 2009, reports of Galway Co. Council spending three thousand euro per week on delivering bottled water to residents was made known and one hundred thousand euro had already been spent on the same task over a period of time. A discussion ensued in the council as to whether the supply stopped at the stopcock or continued to the houses taps. The discussions are ongoing even at present ( July).

Photo:Loughnaneane turlough beside Roscommon Castle , April, 1984

Loughnaneane turlough beside Roscommon Castle , April, 1984

National Museum of Ireland

During the run-up to the recent Roscommon Co.Council elections, clean water was on the agenda of many of the prospective councillors, and one , Mary Rattigan, Independent for Strokestown, was concerned about plans for sourcing water from Grange Lake instead of the existing source , Lisheen Lake, Kiltrustan. She felt Lisheen was a source that passed all the regulations and served more than one thousand householders. She said a new treatment and pumping plant at Grange Lake was being proposed and since the lake was traversed by Shannon cruisers with the resultant sanitation discharge , she was worried about the longer term safety of this new proposed source. A solution, in her view, was to install treatment worksat Lisheen and save many millions which could be better utilised elsewhere. European election candidate Declan Ganley stated that “this century, fresh water, because of climate change, is destined to become as precious as oil. We must invest now in the country’s water and sewerage infrastructure so as to ensure clean water will produce returns for future generations”. Frank Feighan, Fine Gael, said in April that “ we are just five years away from the EU Water Framework Directive and already, the state is miles away from where it should be in terms of water quality. However, a far –thinking approach can reverse this trend .As pointed out in our Rebuilding Ireland Plan , Fine Gael wants to see the establishment of a new state company , Irish Water, that would take over responsibility for providing safe drinking water. He expanded on plan to eliminate septic tanks and investment in farming  ‘champions’ that would incentivise farmers to improve their water targets.

The Environmental Protection Scheme was slow to take off at the beginning but has now become part of the day-to-day activity and an extra income strand for many farmers. An Bord Snip Nua advising REPS 4 to be deactivated will not help the standard of environmental management into the future.

Toxin in Cork lake

A media report in July of this year stated that forty of the one hundred swans on the Lough in Cork City were dead from a suspected toxin in the lake bottom. After tests at the Central Veterinary Laboratory in Co. Kildare, the H1N1 virus and its derivatives were suspected as the source of the trouble. Some experts think that it may be a botulism toxin that was responsible. The spores of this toxin lie in the silt at the bottom of the lake. The spores are anaerobic, which means they thrive when oxygen is absent. A combination of floodwater and increased temperature activates the spores and they multiply. Swans are not diving feeders but eat which their long necks can reach. Decaying matter in the lake uses up the oxygen. Bread given to the ducks and swans may have contributed to this decaying matter.  In fact the fish were dying from oxygen stress and nutrient excess. Attempts were being made to stop the toxic spores multiplying by adding more oxygen to the water and this was being done by aerating the lake with hoses by the civil defence but the effort may have been futile.

Types of toxins

Contaminants in drinking water and food are legion but the most common are :

Aspergilles niger - causes black mould on fruit and vegetables

Burkholderia cepacia – a pathogen that causes pneumonia in immunocompromised people. Found in water and soil.

Clostridium difficle - a cause of antibiotic associated diarrhoea and infection of the colon .

Escherichia coli - There are many types of e-coli, one produces a strong toxin that causes bloody diarrhoea and occasionally kidney failure.

Cryptosporidium - caused by a protozoan parasite. Affects the intestines of mammals and man and is typically a short-tern infection. Spread through fecal-oral route, often through contaminated water. The main symptoms are diarrhoea in people with good immuno systems but with others can be severe. Can leads to gall bladder and pancreatic disease.

Methicillin Resistant Staphyloccus aureus (MRSA) – a bacteria mainly carried on the skin. Can be dangerous to small babies, the very elderly immunoweak individuals, such as people with some forms of cancer. Can occur in crowded and unsanitary conditions. There are hospital and community type strains in which the risk factor differs.  Before and after visiting patients hand cleansing with alcohol gel recommended.

Pseudomonas Aeruginosa - causes inflammation and sepsis. Can be fatal if colinisation occurs in lungs, urinary tract or kidneys.

Salmonella enteritidis - Are enterobacterial found worldwide in warm and cold-blooded animals, also in humans. Can cause typhoid fever and the foodborne illness salmonellosis. Causes abdominal cramps, diarrhoea. People with impaired immune systems are at risk. Eggs should be well cooked. Can be treated with antibiotics.

Shigella sonnei - caused by irrigation water fouled by sewage or manure. The bacteria cause a highly infectious disease that is spread by physical contact. Generally transmitted by uncooked food and contaminated water.

In a recent book The Big Necessity, Adventures in the World of Human Waste, Rose George, author, writing on the parlous state of world sanitation states that diarrhoea has killed more children in the past decade than all the casualties of war since 1945. In one village in India, contaminated water ensured that most women had skin disease or gynaecological infections. In another ten percent of girls went to school before they built clean facilities; afterwards eighty percent attended. In London, New York and scores of developed cities around the world , raw sewage is still pumped into the seas and rivers. As George acutely observes,

‘the irony of defecation is that it is a solitary business yet its repercussions are plural and public’. Sanitation is the world’s biggest health crisis, easily outstripping malaria or HIV-Aids.

Despite these troubles there is a shortage of supply

Despite all these troubles with water supplies from lakes and rivers there is a shortage of supply to the Dublin Region and the Dept of the Environment are seeking more secure supplies from inland . Proposals have been made to abstract water from the Shannon. A media report in Feb. of this year stated that the engineering consultants RPS Viola made a presentation in this regard to Roscommon Co. Council. They were assessing the potential of water supply to the Dublin Region from 2016 onwards and that ten water supply options were being considered. A number of councillors expressed concern about the abstraction even though the consultants determined that it would have a minimal effect.

Also in the same month an allocation of 8.6 million euro for county Roscommon rural water improvements  was announced by Michael Finneran T.D. This was for new treatment for twenty –three group water supplies, three group water schemes were to be taken in charge and plans to improve water and sewerage schemes in towns and villages . Mr Finneran said that it was the biggest ever annual allocation and would “ fund improvements to group water supplies and small public water and sewerage schemes throughout the county”. All this is to be welcomed.

Water is one of those magical elements, so vital for life, that comes in liquid, frozen and vapour forms. It evaporates in pure form to the sky and comes down again as rain, contaminated then in so many ways and so costly to keep clean and healthy. The human body can cope with many of the unwelcome microbes but will react badly to the more virulent bacteria. This is one of the big challenges of our times and it is a constant campaign for the powers in charge.

Environmental scarcities can contribute to instability

An interesting factor in environmental matters is scarcity of water, particularly in unstable developing countries. Scarity can interact with political, economic, social and cultural factors to cause instability. It can limit economic options and therefore force those already impoverished to seek their livelihood in ecologically endangered areas including urban slums . During the 20th century, environmental scarcity has rarely contributed to interstate conflict, one exception being the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, which resulted from a cycle of escalating tensions after a 1965 dispute over water, a conflict still with us today. In Ireland there is no such problem probably just too much of it at certain times of the year. The question is managing it well from an engineering and health perspective for the benefit of all.

This page was added by Lorna Elms on 19/01/2012.