Wastewater treatment plant ‘like open sewer’

Marc O'Cathasaigh - Green Party

APPEALS for Irish Water to upgrade the wastewater system at Bunmahon, Co Waterford, have “fallen on deaf ears”, locals have claimed.

Reports by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Waterford City and County Council have highlighted the poor quality of the water, with the EPA stating it is “imperative” that upgrades are carried out by Irish Water.

Back in December, 2021, Waterford Green Party TD Marc O’Cathasaigh told the Dail that Bunmahon deserved better than to be treated as “an open sewer”.

He called for investment in the wastewater treatment facility, which now serves a population four times larger than the one it was designed for.

“The existing wastewater system is 50 years old and has not been subject to any significant upgrade in that time,” he said.

designed to cater for a population of approximately 120 people – population is now double

“It was originally designed to cater for a population of approximately 120 people. It is the most basic of primary treatments. It has a holding tank where the wastewater sits for 24 hours, which allows certain things to settle. The liquid, which is still not very pleasant, is then syphoned off the top. The tanks are desludged annually. However, the permanent population is now double that and is 500 or more during the summer. Therefore, the wastewater system is operating at four times over capacity,” he said.

Among the local campaigners is Jamie Power, who is one of many parents who will not let their children bathe in the sea.

“My voice is one of over 650 who signed a petition almost a year ago in support of wastewater treatment upgrade and improvements,” Mr Power told the Irish Examiner.
They founded the Bunmahon Water Quality Initiative group, which has collated water quality monitoring data to support their claim that “we do not have a functioning public treatment of our sewage” in the village.

The EPA said the septic tanks provide “little treatment” to the wastewater, and assessment of how they can be optimised should be a “priority” for Irish Water. While he said it was “ridiculous” that they have had to “fight this hard” for priority status, Mr Power said commitments have been received from Irish Water that it will engage more with locals over the coming weeks.

The EPA noted during a visit last March that the designated bathing area is “in the vicinity of the discharge(s)”, adding that its three septic tanks lack stormwater and screening capacity.

most basic of primary treatments

This means objects such as papers and plastics cannot be removed, Marc Ó Cathasaigh said, adding the plant conducts the “most basic of primary treatments” and is no longer suitable. He said the area is an “amazing natural resource” on Waterford’s Copper Coast and should be treated as such.

Irish Water said that its next investment cycle is planned for the end of 2023 and that Bunmahon is being considered, but that it is “not possible to confirm if Bunmahon will be included” in the final investment cycle plan.

The utility said it is working to ensure the current system operates as best as possible. However, recent investigations have “shown evidence of wash-throughs of items such as wipes and grease” in the water.


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