Fish farm under fire over water extraction in Kilkieran
Connemara Journal — July 8, 2014
A pipeline laid in Kilkieran last month to access millions of litres of water from a lake in the Carna-Kilkieran Water Supply Scheme has been installed without planning permission – and with no agreement in place with Irish Water.
The 3.25km pipe has already been used to bring large quantities of water from Loughaunore to a salmon farm operated by fishery giant Marine Harvest Ireland in Kilkieran Bay, to treat an outbreak of Amoebic Gill Disease (AGD).
On June 17 last, Marine Harvest Ireland applied to Galway County Council for a Declaration of Exempted Development under Section 5 of the planning act – an exemption which, if granted, would indicate the local authority’s view is that the pipeline does not require planning permission.
Council planners were due to make a decision on the application before July 14 next – but Marine Harvest went ahead with the construction of the pipeline in June, before a decision was made.
As the Journal went to press, council planners had yet to sign off on a decision on the planning application.
And while the extraction of water from the lake has stopped for now, campaigners say the situation highlights the problems associated with salmon farming and the high volumes of fresh water required to treat AGD.
AGD is a disease that affects sea-farmed salmon and can wipe out fish stocks if left untreated. The most effective treatment is to bathe fish in freshwater for several hours, and Marine Harvest’s own estimate is that 7,200 cubic metres of water will be needed to treat each AGD outbreak at Kilkieran.
And, as warmer summer sea temperatures tend to trigger the outbreaks, this procedure may need to be done several times between now and September.
Marine Harvest says that the system could operate ‘for approximately five days, every six weeks over perhaps a 16 week period’.
‘How will they treat the next case of AGD?’
Despite this predicted large-scale, repeated draining of the reservoir lake, Marine Harvest secured no formal agreement with Irish Water for extraction of water.
Independent councillor Tom Welby, who has been campaigning against a proposed 15,000 tonne fish farm in Galway Bay, said: ‘My fears about what will happen in Galway Bay are now being played out on a smaller scale in Kilkieran.
‘AGD is an increasing problem around the Irish coast, and there are no adequate measures in place to deal with these outbreaks.
‘This outbreak at Kilkieran has required millions of litres of fresh water – where will the water to treat an outbreak at a 15,000 tonne fish farm come from? Will there be a 10-inch pipe running down Shop Street, feeding water from Lough Corrib out to Galway Bay?’
The Section 5 application for the ‘installation of a temporary Fresh Water Pipeline from Loughaunore to Kilkieran Bay’ refers to an ‘agreement with Irish Water’.
Irish Water, however, deny that any such agreement was in place. In a statement issued last week, an Irish Water spokeswoman said: ‘Irish Water has not entered into any agreement with Marine Harvest. We are monitoring the situation and are confident that there is no impact on the supply of water to our customers but we have no statutory powers regarding the authorisation of abstractions.’
The lack of clarity regarding who has the power to stop water extraction was described by Cllr Welby as ‘alarming’.
Cllr Welby added: ‘Given that the fish farming industry could potentially drain millions of litres from our fresh water supply each year, it is alarming that neither Irish Water, the Department of the Environment or the Council seem to be clear on who has the power to stop the extraction of water where no permission has been given.’
Irish Water yesterday (Tuesday) also confirmed that it did not know how much water was extracted from Loughaunore, and that it would not be charging Marine Harvest for the water as the extraction was not metered or agreed in advance.
Despite several attempts by the Journal to speak directly to a representative of Marine Harvest Ireland, Marine Harvest’s only comment came through a Dublin PR company on Thursday last, stating: ‘Marine Harvest Ireland are working closely with all the relevant authorities to ensure that this essential measure can be undertaken swiftly and appropriately.
‘This is a short term measure, taking place over around five days, and we do not anticipate any impact on the water supply to the local population. There has been extensive consultation locally and we have the expressed support of the local community group.’
Documents submitted by Marine Harvest to the council include a letter from An Fóram do Phobal Iorras Aithneach Carna stating that the group is ‘in total agreement’ with the extraction of water, as well as an agreement from a local landowner relating to the placement of the pipe across his land.
Gardaí in Clifden have also confirmed that an investigation is underway regarding alleged criminal damage to the pipe between June 26 and 28.
There were concerns raised in the last week that fish from the Kilkieran farm would not be processed in the village’s processing plant when ready, but transferred for processing to the firm’s Donegal factory. However, a statement from Marine Harvest confirmed: ‘Marine Harvest Ireland has 717,000 fish on the site which will be processed in the ISPG processing plant at Kilkieran in 2015.’