Department investigating pollution incidents at Ballyclare river
The Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA) has been urged to take action after a milky-white discharge was discovered entering the Six Mile river from a culvert near the War Memorial Park in Ballyclare.
The Six Mile Water Trust says this is the latest in a series of similar incidents reported to the NIEA since it first highlighted issues with the culvert back in June 2017.
In 2020, incidents involving a white discharge and in one instance, according to the Trust, what looked like raw sewage, were reported in January, March and May before the most recent discharges seen this month.
Speaking on behalf of The Six Mile Water Trust, Jim Gregg said: “Following the devastating pollution incident that killed over 35,000 fish on the river in 2008, our volunteers have spent thousands of hours tracking and reporting pollution sources throughout the Six Mile Water catchment.
”With the data we have, two main sources of pollution entry stand out, the Blackwater at Mallusk and the culvert at Ballyclare.
“Whilst the Blackwater poses the highest risk of pollution, it is acknowledged that the labyrinth of culverted drains that exist from the outdated infrastructure of the Mallusk Industrial Estate, combined with ongoing industrial, commercial and domestic development, make it difficult to track down sources of pollution.
“We believe the same complexities do not exist in Ballyclare. It is deeply frustrating for everyone therefore, that these incidents persist without resolution over three years since they were first highlighted to the NIEA.
“Due to the level of oil spill incidents in the Ballyclare area, we have also asked for the NIEA to carry out an inspection of commercial premises for compliance with current oil storage regulations. In our view, more rigorous enforcement of the law is now crucial if we are serious about tackling pollution of our rivers, lakes and waterways.
“This must also be aligned with more punitive fines for offenders.”
Maurice Parkinson, chairman of the Antrim and District Angling Association, also expressed his disappointment about the series of incidents.
He said: “Those not just in the NIEA, but also planners and in particular politicians at all levels need to be far more proactive in preventing and dealing with pollution incidents.
“To the Association’s members, the ongoing deterioration in water quality in our rivers and lakes is akin to a race to the bottom.
“It not only has a major impact on our pastime, but also creates serious risks to human health and the natural environment. We appeal to minister (Edwin) Poots to be much more proactive on this issue.”
In response, a DAERA spokesperson said: “The Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA) were made aware of two pollution incidents coming from the culvert at Ballyclare Leisure Centre, on September 15 and on September 17.
“On both occasions a Water Quality Inspector (WQI) was immediately tasked to investigate the reports and was at the scene within the hour. Unfortunately, on both occasions, any discharge had already passed by the time the WQI had arrived, making it impossible to determine the source of these particular incidents.
“NIEA is fully aware of the pollution problems on the Six Mile Water at this culvert. Our investigations, so far, have indicated that there are multiple sources for the pollution which makes resolving the matter more complex.”
The spokesperson added: “Some of the incidents involve inappropriate substances being put into the storm drains by the public and NIEA has been raising awareness across Northern Ireland on the proper use of drains and what can and cannot be put into the drainage system. Further information on this is available at https://www.daera-ni.gov.uk/publications/niea-proper-use-drains-leaflet.
“NIEA and NIW are also currently working to locate and resolve problems with misconnections to the storm drains in the area and this work will also continue.
“The Department takes the issue of water pollution very seriously and is progressing a wide range of measures aimed at improving water quality.
“These range from pollution prevention and response activities to regulatory inspections and enforcement action where appropriate.
“Through extensive monitoring of water quality in freshwater rivers, lakes and groundwater as well as in the marine environment, officials have identified a range of pressures on these water bodies and set these out earlier this year in the Significant Water Management Issues Report.
“Replies to the six month public consultation on this report are helping to inform our current work on the draft River Basin Management Plan and a new Programme of Measures to improve water quality and address deterioration in water bodies across Northern Ireland.”
Commenting on the latest incident, Ballyclare Independent Councillor Michael Stewart said: “Our experiences during this dreadful pandemic have perhaps made many of us appreciate more than ever the incredible natural beauty that we enjoy in Ballyclare and the breath-taking countryside all around us.
“It is regrettable therefore that pollution of that environment such as we have consistently seen at the culvert in War Memorial Park and in other places along the Six Mile; the reckless and perfidious fly tipping that blights our landscape; and the thoughtless littering and dog fouling that we see on every road and street, threatens to become part of our so-called ‘new normal’.
“We cannot let that happen. We all must play our part to make a difference. We all must take responsibility and work together as residents, as elected representatives, and as government agencies to tackle these issues relentlessly, day by day, street by street, mile by mile.
“I would urge the public that if they have any concerns about water pollution or want to report a water pollution incident, to call the NIEA water pollution hotline on 0800 80 70 60. It’s available 24 hours a day.”
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