Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Mink escape is possible threat to Irish Rivers

Upto 1000 mink have escaped from a mink farm near Ardara in County Donegal putting local wildlife and especially the fisheries in the Rivers Glen, Owenea and Gweebarra at risk. At this particular time of year Salmon will be returning to spawn in these catchments making them easy prey for these voracious predators. Unlike the European Mink (Mustela lutreola), which is an endangered species, the American Mink (Neovison vison) has proved to be a problematic invasive species.  Similar escapes caused by animal rights activists have resulted in large mortalities of these animals within a short time after release; so while it  is unlikely that the majority of the escaped  mink will either survive or escape being trapped, it is inevitable that a large breeding population in the area will become established which will have long term effects on aquatic and waterside species. 

Monday, September 27, 2010

Melbourne Water

Melbourne Water's conservation measures have
led to a significant reduction in household water usgae
 Melbourne Water is one of Australia’s largest water authorities and is owned by the Victoria State Government. It manages Melbourne’s water resources, supplies drinking water and treats wastewater. Their website gives a unique and interactive overview of the complexity of managing the human water cycle and provides an enormous amount of detail on their activities including reports and other downloads. The web site provides a fascinating insight of how water shortages are being successfully addressed in Australia. Link The website is really worth checking out.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Asian Clam invades Irish Freshwaters

Recent reports have shown that the aquatic invasive species Asian Clam (Corbicula fluminea), which was recorded for the first time in Ireland in April this year in the River Barrow in County Carlow,  is more widespread than previously thought. The mollusc has also been recorded in Lough Corrib and the Grand Canal. Canals are trans-catchment waterways that have significantly accelerated the spread of invasive species in other countries.

The clam originally comes from south-eastern Asia and grows very rapidly reaching high densities in a short period of time. Like the Zebra Mussel (Dreissena polymorpha) it significantly damages the food web and excludes the native mussel species. In the US the mussel is estimated to cause in excess of a $1 billion of damage each year. The National Invasive Species Database has asked that any suspected sightings be reported to them with a photograph if possible so that identification can be confirmed. Link

Friday, September 24, 2010

Undergraduate visit to the River Avoca and the mines

The new Junior Sophister (third year) students in Environmental Science and Botany explored the abandoned Cu-S mines just outside Avoca.

They experienced at first hand the historical importance of the site as well as the environmental damage that the site causes.

In the afternoon they had a brief look at the impact acid mine drainage is having on the river.  Macro-invertebrate sampling revealed that it supports a wide range of species at Avoca Bridge just 2.4 km downstream of the mines, confirming that the river has recovered significantly since the 1990’s due to the reduction in the strength of the metals being discharged from the mine drainage.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Avoca mines: Sunday Times

Once again the problem of Avoca mines has hit the newspapers with renewed demands for immediate, yet conflicting, action to be taken.

In my opinion the problem of rehabilitating the abandoned Cu-Pb mining site at Avoca has become much more complex than when we first put forward our own rehabilitation plan in 1995 after our intensive five year study that has been the basis of all the subsequent work done on the site. My main concern is that the movement of water through the mine workings may significantly alter due to ochre deposition and lead to acid mine drainage (AMD) being discharged into surrounding sub-catchments. This has already been seen in the changing pattern of discharge rates from some of the minor adits. Also, that any physical work done on the site may also cause problems both in terms of AMD generation as well as altering the current flow pattern.

Our own studies have indicated that the river has shown significant recovery since closure, although the rate of recovery has flattened out since 2006. The closure of the fertilizer factory, which had been shown in our studies in the early 1990’s to be the major limiting factor for salmonid migration into the catchment due to ammonia toxicity, has meant that salmon have been present for many years. However, the damage to the habitat diversity of the river, mainly from ferric hydroxide precipitation, has left it relatively impoverished in terms of other species. So where do we go now? My firm belief is that we should largely wait and see. The action of surface water on Mount Platt has to be controlled, that has been obvious for two decades and is a relatively simple and cheap thing to do. But as the article in today’s Sunday Times points out a balance has to be struck between preserving the mining and environmental heritage of the site as well as reducing the impact on the river.

Theresa Hughes of the Water Technology Research Group has been looking at an alternative treatment for the acid mine drainage coming from the Avoca site that may provide a sustainable treatment solution. She has been working on the co-treatment of AMD with domestic wastewater which means that treatment is done at a central treatment facility that will be monitored and maintained 24/7, unlike many on-site systems used at abandoned mines. The problem is that the AMD has to be treated to a very high level forever, and this is best achieved using more conventional treatment technology. What is interesting is that neither Avoca nor Arklow have proper domestic wastewaetr treatment systems in place at this time offering the potential to invest both the capital and operating costs from the treatment of Avoca mines in a new permanent co-treatment facility. More details of Theresa’s work can be seen via the link.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Group water schemes reviewed

One in five Irish households is not connected to public mains with over 5,500 group water schemes serving 10% of the population.  In her review, just published in the journal European Water, Jennifer Brady examines the structure, the merits and potential disadvantages of the group water scheme model and looks to its future within the Irish water supply industry. Online paper link.  To find out more about Jennifer's research click here.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Stockholm Water Prize 2010

World Water Week, the annual conference organized by the Stokholm International Water Institute ended last week with the announcement of the prestigious Stockholm Water prize to Dr Rita Colwel for her exceptional contribution in the control of the spread of cholera, a waterborne pathogen that infects 3 to 5 million people and leads to an estimated 120,000 deaths each year. The citation reads ‘Through her groundbreaking research, innovations and decades of scientific leadership, she has defined our current understanding of the ecology of infectious diseases and developed the use of advanced technologies to halt their spread. Her work has established the basis for environmental and infectious disease risk assessment used around the world.’ Link

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Troubled water: Ireland’s drinking water supply seminar

A one-day seminar has been organised by Engineers Ireland and the NSAI to provide delegates with the latest information and developments in regulations, enforcement, and the role of the NSAI ISO 24512 Drinking Water Management standard, as well as technological advances in the provision of quality drinking water.  It will be held on  October 5th 2010 at  22 Clyde Road, Ballsbridge, Dublin 4. Further details can be obtained via the link.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Cholera outbreak in Nigeria

Cholera is normally associated with disaster and war-torn areas and so the current outbreak in Nigeria is particularly worrying and reminds me of the 1991 outbreak in that country when nearly 8,000 people died. The current outbreak has infected over 13,000 people in just two months of which 780 have sadly lost their lives. Latest reports are that the outbreak is spreading to the neighbouring countries of Cameroon, Chad and Niger. The cause appears to be poor sanitation which has been exacerbated by heavy seasonal rainfall contaminating water supplies. Half of Nigeria's population of 150 million is without access to clean water or proper sanitation, putting the whole country at risk from the current outbreak. While death can be prevented by rapid medical intervention, which is difficult in rural areas; cholera can only be contained by good personal hygiene and access to clean water.

The royalties from my book Drinking water Quality go to WaterAid who work in Nigeria to help establish sustainable water supplies and latrines and to influence government policy to serve the interests of vulnerable people. If you can help this wonderful organization then please do.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Septic tanks and on-site treatment systems to be monitored and inspected

The European Court of Justice ruling in October 2009 in relation to Irish on-site wastewater treatment systems, which of course includes the much maligned septic tank, will require new legislation in order to achieve the level of compliance required by the EU. Currently this is being prepared by the various State Agencies. What this will mean to the average householder with an on-site system is yet to be seen. However, it appears inevitable that the legislation will include prescribed standards covering both the operation and performance of systems. For these to be enforced then licensing, monitoring and inspection of systems will be required. What this will mean is that householders will have to become much more hands-on with their systems or pay someone else to look after them. Where systems fail standards then remedial action will be necessary.

Personally I am worried that this will lead to much hardship for many rural people and even in extreme cases the possibility of people unable to continue to live in their homes. Currently it costs about €5,000 to install a simple septic tank percolation area and approximately €18,000 for a sophisticated on-site treatment and percolation system. On top of this is the annual desludging costs of between €180-275. There are also possible maintenance or service charges for on-site treatment plants which range between €250 to €500 and which usually excludes the cost of replacement parts. To include a possible annual licence fee for on-site systems and then an equivalent monitoring and inspection system to the National Car Testing scheme with possible costly remediation or up grading work after inspection will create enormous hardship for many. I often wonder if there is an urban-rural divide in Ireland, in terms of water and wastewater provision there certainly appears to be.

Monday, September 6, 2010

River sampling can be very unpredictable

River sampling can be very unpredictable especially in hard rock (e.g. granite) catchments. The River Avoca is very flashy with a discharge rate that can increase from 0.7 m3/s to 70 m3/s within just a few hours during intense rainfall events. Yesterday the height of the River was 1.6 m lower than this afternoon after 18 hours of heavy showers. The picture shows a slightly worse event in January 2010 which resulted in localized flooding. On that occassion the water was 2.2m higher than normal at the same point. Sampling is normally planned many weeks or months in advance but when conditions are like this then it is impossible and dangerous to proceed.  So if at all possible always work in soft rock catchments (e.g. chalk) where discharge rates are largely unaffected by rainfall events. No sampling tomorrow!

Sunday, September 5, 2010

New research on acid mine drainage

Lisa Egan has joined the Water Technology Research Group to work on using duckweed to assess the impact of acid mine drainage and for its potential treatment. Link to Lisa's research page.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

New book launched

The latest edition of the textbook Water Technology: An introduction for Environmental Scientists and Engineers (740pp) written by Professor Nick Gray of the Centre for the Environment  has been released today. Co-published by Butterworth-Heinemann and IWA Publishing the new third edition has been extensively updated and expanded, and is supported by a dedicated website and blog: The book is also available on-line.