River Basin Management Plan Submission

We have responded to the Minister Kelly’s Public Consultation Document and the full text is below.

Firstly we would like to introduce ourselves and complement you on a superb document which has already created an excellent platform for cooperation. We hope we can offer something useful to you.

We are the River Vartry Protection Society and are formed and constituted based on a common thread running through our lives, the River Vartry. This is the River Basin we are particularly concerned with and knowledgeable about. We are comprised of all the Riparian Owners along the river and neighbours that surround the river. The vision was that if all these people dedicate themselves to protecting the river, and with our children, lock hands and keep all potential dangers away from the river, it will remain healthy and a natural habitat for the generations to come.

We have the knowledge, have researched the history of the River Vartry, and can act as an active resource for this River Basin. We feel that as a EU protected Salmonoid River, it is important that this resource is un-disturbed. We are active in opposing any planning or development within the Vartry River Basin that could damage the River.

Issue 1 Prioritisation – We believe that the River Vartry as a high-status water body, needs acknowledgement of its importance by the Political Bodies that have the fate of the river in their hands. This is Wicklow County Council and the Dublin Corporation. The Dublin Corporation controls the flow and source of the River Vartry with the reservoir that supplies Dublin its water. The Wicklow County Council continues to challenge the river by proposing developments on the flood plain, and developments that will dispose their surface water into the Vartry. (See Moffash – WCC reference 15524). The priority is to complete the initiative set out in
the previous RBMP, the setting of compensatory flows.

We feel that the River Basins in general should not be developed and it is easy enough to plan housing and high density developments in areas or communities which are not in a river basin.

Issue 2 Public Engagement – Having “Champions” for each of the River Basins like the River Vartry Protection Society could give the policy makers a resource of local knowledge and history that would be valuable on an ongoing basis. Such an inclusion in the process would be of benefit.

Issue 3 Organisational Coordination – Your comment from the preface, “Management plans did not work well. Arrangements were over complex and responsibilities were poorly defined with no single body having overall responsibility for developing the plans and overseeing delivery of the programmes of measures”. Well said! When the RBMP was first published, it was clear to us at the time that this was the case. For example, part of the River Vartry program was to decide on Compensatory Flows before 2015. This was assigned to the EPA, the Fisheries, Dublin Corporation and Wicklow County Council. 4 stools and nothing actually got done, nor could we have a single source to badger into completing this task. We are concerned with this new long list without specifically repeating that you will be assigning a single body to be responsible and be the overseeing body in each directive that requires action.

Issue 4 Coordination of Plan Implementation- Ultimately we see that the situation of keeping our Rivers secure will come down to Fish vs. People. When there are pressures on society like over crowding and lack of water, people will care little about the state and habitat of the Fish. To protect against this we need to develop drinking water strategies that are viable alongside protecting the Fish and the Rivers. We would like to see that the EU based RBMP is the strongest legislation as the “can not break” policy and the others competing for water related issues, have to abide by the RBMP. The RBMP must have a continual officer or office that can monitor complaints and activities of the Councils and other bodies. As spoken earlier, having direct contact with groups that have Adopted a River and its Basin would be helpful to farm out some of the work to these volunteer groups who could watch locally for concerns that might endanger the Environment.

Issue 5 Land-use Planning and Water- It is our belief that all planning in a River Basin must be more tightly controlled. The County Councils are too deeply involved in these issues and as we have seen, find cares for the river and water, a disturbance and obstacle to their ability to raise funds from planning or their own plans. We need to bring up real cases to illustrate how this does not function correctly currently.

In 2009 Wicklow County Council granted permission to a development against our objection on behalf of the River Vartry Protection Society for surface runoff of development into the River Vartry. WCC ignored our raised issue on this point. An Bord Pleanála listened to our appeal ref: PL 27.238851 and PL 27.241799 in the area to the adjoining development refused. From this judgement we quote “Having regard to the proposals for surface water drainage to serve the site, the Board is not satisfied that the capacity of the watercourse is adequate, that the impact of the necessary works on adjoining landowners would be acceptable, or that the potential impacts on the salmonoid River Vartry would be acceptable. The proposed development would, therefore, be contrary to the proper planning and sustainable development of the area.”. We applaud them in that decision but it is the Wicklow County Council who should be champions of the river as it flows through Mount Usher, one of Wicklow’s most important tourist locations.

We opposed a WCC scheme for abstracting water from the Aquifer at several locations in Ashford again having to resort to An Bord Pleanála. In an FOI request by ourselves we found the consultant for the WCC stated in his confidential report to them “We can not assess the extent of the damage that will be caused to the River Varty until after the Abstraction is complete.” The WCC withdrew their planning and changed direction, buying water from the Dublin Corporation, but only after being forced.

Currenty they are deciding on a 178 house estate (Moffash – WCC reference 15524) planned just above the flood plain, less than 300 Meters from the River. This will eventually end up in An Bord Pleanála. In the current Variation 5 for planning in Ashford, the WCC state that this is a low flood risk area because the Reservoir controls the flow, which is totally incorrect. We have 2 meter rises of the River Vartry at least once a year. Only in non-flood situations does the Reservoir control the flow.

The Wicklow County Council themselves built a small estate on the flood plain and only after some local pressure, did not build the full amount of houses which would have placed the lowest row of flats underwater every 5 or so years. In the future there is probably enough local objection to prevent further development on the flood plain in Ashford, but we think this should not be left to our objections.

It would be our suggestion that a special zone be placed around the Rivers that require some special planning which includes public participation. These zones could be determined by distance, 500 Meters, or by a combination of height above the river and distance to insure the water, drinkable or for habitat is safe. The current setbacks from Rivers is much to small and must be increased. There is always another site that can be zoned or another community which is more suitable for development not putting pressure on the Rivers. We need to be aware that the time of Greed vs Public Good can be returning and we need to have processes in place to protect the Public Good this time.

We feel that Planning in the River Basin should always be subject to An Bord Pleanála scrutiny with public participation as a legal requirement for County Councils because Rivers, Waters, Habitat are all National concerns, not Local.

Issue 6 Floods and Water- We see on the Vartry River a huge variation between dangerously low levels of water caused by the Reservoir above the river and the flood times where the River is two meters rise above normal waters. This is an unmanaged resource, damaging the salmon by not enough water at one end, and at the other flushing our most valuable resource out to sea.

To step back in History… In 1860 the plan for the River Vartry Reservoir which was the Water Act, went before the English Parliament for approval the first time with a map showing a second reservoir of 2 million Gallons between the current reservoir and fall of the river down Devil’s Glen. Although the opposition to the Water Act was bought out and the second reservoir never built, it still remains on the map in State documents which formed the agreement of the Water Act of 1860. Had this reservoir been built, we would now have a buffer to the erratic use of water caused by the single reservoir. Even stranger, two of our members who own the property where the reservoir should be have no heirs, and would be willing to discuss the land use for this purpose.

What our River Basin need to align flood risk mitigation and water quality management is someone to give WCC the funds to build this second reservoir. This would provide a compensatory flow and make use of all the water flushed out to sea when it rains for a few days, managing the resource. We would still need to preserve the flood plains and have more diligent and accurate Flood Risk Management Studies, but some of the problems would be addressed.

Issue 7 Biodiversity Management and Water- With salmon in the seas reducing, these few EU protected habitats for Salmon Spawning Grounds should be mentioned and of as high a status as with the pearl mussel sites, before the salmon are endangered. The rivers are host to many other wildlife and fauna that are important to us. It is our opinion that the importance of these corridors of “natural life” are not valued enough nor the powers of government used to make the PEOPLE, the communities feel proud, personably responsible, and aware of these corridors.

Issue 8 Pollution caused by nutrient enrichment – Again, speaking with local knowledge, the River Vartry still has open and in force Discharge Licences allowing sewerage to flow into the river, whether being used or not. We were informed by one of our members, who owns an old hotel on the river, that she holds one of these Licences and perhaps that is not a good thing. It is important that these ancient discharge licences are revoked.

As well we have a greater problem of the possibility of spills from the Dublin Corp. Treatment works at the Vartry Reservoir. In June 2012, there was a massive fish kill severely damaging the fish population and killing two storks that feed on the fish. The Fisheries were supposed to come to a conclusion on the cause of the event and were given one of the dead salmon for toxicology. No result was ever received nor no cause stated. Since the first fish was found 100 yards from the treatment works and later a rumour circulated that they had dumped large amounts of raw chlorine into the river, nothing went further. We could of course, raise an FOI and see exactly what happened with the correspondence between the Fisheries, the treatment works, and the Dublin Corp but but it would be of no use. What is important here is that there is no penalty, no process of an overseer, and the Fisheries are so very sensitive to their relationship with other national bodies that they do not always honestly represent the Fish. We need an impartial body that has responsibility and will have some clout to prevent these kind of events from re-occuring. A penalty might be €2,000,000 fine used to improve and monitor the river or replace gravel in the spawning beds, cut trees overlooking the river (Fisheries did this a couple of years ago, but mostly themselves on their own time).

There seems to be no guidelines for planned estates to measure the damage that run-off surface water can do to the Rivers. Where no municipal system exists for surface water can Estates expect to send their surface water directly into the Rivers? Attenuation tanks are not a solution as when they fill the overflow of oiled, greased, car washing soaps, go directly into the River. There needs to definition of what is allowed and what planned estates will have to do to purify the surface water before discharging it.

Issue 10 and 11 Fine Sediment and Physical Changes- Several year ago there was some disturbance in the river below Hunter’s Hotel with some neighbour doing extensive work on the banks. As a Riparian Owner we can do little unless we are directly affected above or below this owners use and I suspect it would be a hard challenge for anyone to make. However, all the advice and knowledge you have at your hands should be made available to those in the position to make this kind of mistake. It was rumoured that large amounts of silt flowed into the BroadLough (SAC and SPA).

This is a matter of communicating this information to the people who own the property on the sides of the River and a special effort is needed to both identify these people and see that they are informed of what is good or bad for the river.

Issue 12 Abstraction and Flows – This is the most important issue for us as it was addressed by the previous RBMP and not implemented as discussed above. We have concerns at both ends of the spectrum. (pictures can be supplied to support any of this section).

In low water times, the River Vartry just after the treatment plant is a stream of 1-3 feet wide by 6-10 inches deep, hardly flowing. The treatment works by their own statement, uses every bit of water they can. What is leaked out, they pump from further down stream back up the the beds to make sure they loose none. The only discretion they have in this is when we call the Fisheries because there is little or no water in the river and the Fisheries call them, they turn off the back flow pump for a while. The only water that flows in the river is what is accumulated by springs as it passes through Devil’s Glen. This is why we opposed further Abstraction by the Wicklow County Council of pumping the Aquifer By 2015 we were to have compensatory flows determined and then implemented by the Dublin Corp. This never happened. We need to have this completed and implemented by 2017.

In high times, we have a river that is +2 meters higher than a normal healthy river. Full trees and boulders wash down river. The gravel in the Salmon spawning beds is washed down stream. Some of this needs replenishing and locals raised €7000 funds 3 years ago to do a minor addition to some of the beds. Most of this has moved downstream in the floods since. We again point out that a buffer reservoir below the current reservoir would solve this issue and not throw all the valuable water out to Sea.

In order to really determine and control compensatory flows, it is necessary to have permanent monitoring equipment installed at various places. It needs proper calculations determining, depth, width and flow at the same time. In our case, we can find members willing to both locate these and monitor them on a ongoing basis, reporting to whatever authority is chosen.

Issue 13 Hazardous Chemicals- See issue 8 about Chemical Spill and Fish Kill on the River Vartry. New procedures are required for the Dublin Corp. who have access directly to the River Vartry so that there is no possibility of Chemical Spills into the river. We understand that they regularly dump chlorine but in small amounts, the only difference in the Fish Kill of 2012 was that in error they spilled greater amounts.

Issue 15 Invasive Alien Species – This will sound like a joke but we were unable to place and issue that is felt by many of us and that would be invasion of illegal fishing threatening the river. Although the River is Closed for fishing as of the Fish Kill, we have had many trespassers fishing without license (which would not be granted) and several alerts of net fishing. These are threats to the Salmon and the habitat which, although somewhat criminal, is best dealt with by education. On a River such as the Vartry where all fishing is prohibited, some body should pay for signs and offer them to land owners along the river to erect. These signs would alert people to the danger of fishing or the seriousness of net fishing. The sign shown on your document is the similar situation to this issue that we should raise and could be considered in the same vein as other invasive threats.

Issue 16 Loss of High Status Waters- This is covered in all the other issue above. If most of our concerns were dealt with, we surrounding the River Vartry would be satisfied that a great deal has been done to protect and maintain our High Status Waters.

Matthew Weiss 21st July 2015
For and Behalf of the River Vartry Protection Society

July 21 2015 02:03 pm | Active and Politics and River Basin Management

Leave a Reply

Protected with IP Blacklist CloudIP Blacklist Cloud