Storm brewing over Limerick farmers' slurry tower inspections

Donal O’Regan

Reporter:

Donal O’Regan

Cllrs Kevin Sheahan and Adam Teskey at one of the affected farmer’s slurry towers in County Limerick

Cllrs Kevin Sheahan and Adam Teskey at one of the affected farmer’s slurry towers in County Limerick

OVER 250 County Limerick farmers with slurry towers have been written to by the council to say they will be carrying out inspections of the tanks.

Limerick IFA chairman Shay Galvin and Cllrs Adam Teskey say there is one rule for farmers and no rules when raw sewage is being pumped straight into rivers. According to the latest EPA report, Foynes and Glin were two of 44 areas around Ireland where waste water was collected and released back into the environment without treatment in 2016. And it is likely to continue to do so until 2021.

Mr Galvin said a council employee has told him: “They want farmers to construct containment bunds [moats] around these slurry towers”.

“The time to do risk assessment was when farmers were applying for planning, not now. All the letters I have been shown by farmers were for tanks which are less than ten years old and even in one case the tank was never built,” said Mr Galvin, who estimated the cost of installing a moat at over €6,000.

“They pose their own risks. They are going to fill up with water so you have to keep the water pumped out and fence them off. There is a risk to children. Some of these towers are in areas where it would be impossible to build a bund around them as they are right up against other buildings,” said Mr Galvin, who adds that “there have been a lot more pollution incidents involving sewage treatment plants in the country than slurry towers despite their being over 10 times more slurry towers than sewage treatment plants”.

He asks: “Why are farmers being unfairly targeted by Limerick City and County Council environmental department?”

“IFA fully support clean water and keeping the environment safe from pollution but we feel that these inspections are unnecessary and will not add anything to ensuring clean water,” said Mr Galvin.

Cllr Teskey called a special meeting of the Adare-Rathkeale municipal district on the issue.

“All of these over ground slurry tanks were built to Department of Agriculture specifications and received planning permission from the council. The department grant aided most of these towers and were satisfied with their construction. And now the council are coming back looking for more?” asks Cllr Teskey.

He said nobody is against this if it is going “to preclude effluent from entering rivers”.

“But if they do want these moats it is up to the council to pay for it. Farmers at the moment are totally strapped for cash and have already put in massive investment into their infrastructure to come up to the standards put in place by the department,” said Cllr Teskey.

Cllr Sheahan said to say farmers that have contacted him are “shell-shocked” is an “understatement”.

“They have already complied with every condition laid down by the council and department.

“I really wish the same amount of diligence was displayed with the sewerage scheme I have been calling for to be installed in Askeaton for years. Raw effluent is going into the Deel. Any time you have a spillage or leakage going into a river we seem to have no problem in hounding the farmer,” said Cllr Sheahan.

In response to a media query from the Leader on the issue, a council spokesperson said steel slurry towers are a very good option for storage, but if they fail, it can be extremely serious.

“Some of the biggest fish kills Limerick has experienced in the last decade have been as a result of failure of these units.

Limerick City and County Council has found that the primary reasons why these go wrong are relatively minor i.e. problems with the valves (usually management, but occasionally installation), associated pipe work or poor management of surface water drainage systems.

“The main purpose of the proposed inspections is to make sure the values are working, the pipe work to the reception tank is sound and there are no direct path ways to waters than can easily be eliminated (e.g. open manholes) and that the farmer is aware of the importance of correct management of the valves. This is an awareness raising exercise and the council has given farmers details of a contact person to speak to if they have any queries.

“Indeed, a number of farmers have been very proactive and contacted the local authority directly to ask for advice in how to minimise the possibility of any problems, prior to the letter being sent,” said the spokesperson.