In May 2019, in a landmark ruling, Sligo County Council granted planning permission for the upgrade of the existing Water Treatment Plant at Lough Talt, Co Sligo. This is the first project in Ireland to gain permission using the Habitats Directive IROPI (Imperative Reasons of Overriding Public Interest) process.
Working closely with Irish Water, Sligo County Council and the National Parks and Wildlife Service, RPS supported the delivery of this landmark approval.
Since February 2018 over 13,000 residents within Lough Talt’s catchment area have been under a boil water notice due to contamination. Currently the water treatment from Lough Talt uses chlorination only which does not protect against cryptosporidium, trihalomethanes and falls short of EU drinking water standards.
We began the preparation of a Water Abstraction Order for Lough Talt in 2010 to regularise the abstraction ongoing for over 70 years. Lough Talt is designated as part of the Lough Hoe Bog Special Area of Conservation (SAC) and the River Moy SAC. Due to environmental sensitivities, we carried out detailed hydrological and geological investigations between 2012–2016 to assess the potential impact of the existing abstraction on the integrity of the European sites’ conservation objectives. We found that during periods of extended dry weather the lake level drops as a result of the abstraction operation, which impacts the Lough Hoe Bog SAC, potentially endangering the protected Geyer’s whorl snail.
To avoid this impact the abstraction would need to be reduced by approximately 50% during a significant portion of the year (95 days on average). This would not be adequate to supply the existing population requiring a supplementary water supply. Based on the studies and reporting prepared by RPS, Sligo County Council completed the Appropriate Assessment (AA). An assessment of solutions showed no available alternative options to supply safe drinking water in the short to medium term. The Council concluded that consent should be granted for IROPI to address the ongoing contamination and public health risk.
Based on the documents prepared by RPS, including IROPI and compensatory measures, a statement of case was prepared for consideration by the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government. The compensatory measures including the reintroduction of the whorl snail were accepted by the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government and Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht as being sufficient to safeguard the protected site.
RPS is currently providing design services to Sligo County Council for the WTP upgrade. The project is therefore commencing detailed design by RPS followed by construction in due course.
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