The River Erne, viewed from the old Railway Bridge, and close to where the town’s water pump station is located

‘All options’ including damming River Erne being considered

Damming the River Erne to maintain local water supply is one of several options being considered in Belturbet, where levels on the watercourse are at a near 80-year low.

The downpours that accompanied thunderstorms in recent days have offered short reprieve for embattled water service workers, now more fearful of being able to maintain supply in the pictureque riverside town.

One of several proposals being mulled over is sandbagging part of the river to stem the flow in a worst case scenario.

According to the Office of Public Work's website, river data for Belturbet shows the river height has slid a further 21cm over the past five weeks, from a height of 0.773m in mid-May to just 0.563m on Monday last, June 15.

At the start of the month, June 3, the river level fell as low as 0.495m.

It was, according to historical records, the lowest the river has been in 79 years.

It also represents a near 2.5 metre drop in height from when the River Erne was bursting its banks only seven months previous. The highest flooding in more than 60 years was recorded on November 25, 2019, at 3.05 metres.

The river height is currently in the 95th percentile nationally.

While a spokesperson for Irish Water noted that there was “no immediate threat” to the water supply to Belturbet, the semi-State utility said it is “monitoring the situation at present and, if necessary, appropriate steps will be taken to secure the water supply to the area.”

Asked if those steps might include damming the river flow, as has been mooted locally, the spokesperson added: “No options have been ruled out at this time and we are monitoring levels closely. We will ensure that we will work with all stakeholders to keep them up to date on the approach as it develops.”

They added that all other supplies in the county are being “monitored”, but as yet are deemed “not under immediate threat”.

Hosepipe ban

To support conservation measures across Ireland, a National Water Conservation Order, commonly referred to as a hosepipe ban, was imposed from on Tuesday, June 9 and will remain in place until Tuesday July 21. It follows an appeal by Irish Water to the public to conserve water and choose handwashing over power washing. Domestic water usage had increased amid the COVID-19 crisis and during lockdown.

An independent councillor in Belturbet echoed the calls for homeowners to restrict their water usage. Cllr Brendan Fay also acknowledged that a significant investment in upgrading services across the county is currently taking place.

"We all have to do our bit to manage water use as best we can. The river in Belturbet is very low at present, and that brings its own problems. But I'd ask people to be patient, and if they have a problem, to contact Irish Water," he said.

Water investment across region

The Cavan, Monaghan, Leitrim Disinfection Programme is meanwhile currently at construction stage and covers 14 sites across the three counties.

This will see the upgrades of disinfection treatment plants in Swanlinbar, Cavan Regional, Cootehill, Ballyjamesduff, Clones and Inniskeen in Cavan and Monaghan, and will ensure these plants are fully compliant with drinking water standards.

A Coagulation, Filtration and Clarification (CFC) programme is also almost complete, and involves upgrades to treatment processes at two plants in Cavan and two in Monaghan, resulting in “cleaner” water in Ballyjamesduff, Swanlinbar, Cootehill, Belturbet; and Crosses and Togan in Monaghan.

Upgrades to several treatment plants are also underway.

The Virginia Wastewater Treatment Plant upgrade is at the detailed design stage. Irish Water says it is upgrading the plant to “increase capacity for social and economic development, reduce storm overflow frequency, and improve the level of treatment to comply with the EPA discharge licence”.

However, they state that it is “worth noting” the plant has “some capacity to accept a small number of new connections in the meantime. When plans are finalised we will update the media and local stakeholders.”

There are upgrades too to treatment plants in Cootehill and in Swanlinbar; while €60,000 is to be pumped into the Bailieborough Water Treatment Plant upgrade where a new manganese dosing system is currently being procured and will be installed soon.

It follows the 'Do Not Consume' notice imposed on the town back in December last year, and the upgrade is expected to be in place by early September assuming no new Covid-19 restrictions are imposed.

“This will ensure that the manganese exceedance of winter 2019 will not reoccur,” said a spokesperson for Irish Water.

Finally, phases 1 to 3 and half the pipework has been installed to date on phases 4 and 5 on the Cavan Town Sewer Rehabilitation project.

Overall it represents a €14.5 million investment in the wastewater treatment plant, and a €9.5 million investment in Cavan town sewerage network.

The two projects will provide Cavan Town with a wastewater collection and treatment system built to cater for a population of up to 30,000.

There were also upgrades carried out to the pumping stations and storm water tanks. The sewerage network project involved the construction of 13km of new wastewater collection network.

A storm water retention tank was also constructed in the centre of Cavan town.

Monaghan water upgrades complete

In Co Monaghan, the €6m Castleblayney Wastewater Treatment Plant Upgrade was completed in 2019; as was the Carrickmacross Water Supply Scheme Water Treatment Plant and €4.5m upgrade to the Lough Egish Regional Water Supply Scheme.

The Monaghan Town and Clones Water Mains Rehabilitation Project involved the replacement of old water mains prone to leakage and regular bursts, while the Glaslough watermains replacement saw 1.1km of old cast iron mains replaced with high density polyethylene (plastic) pipes.

“Irish Water would like to assure customers in Cavan and Monaghan that we are working at this time with our Local Authority partners, contractors and others to safeguard the health and well-being of both staff and the public and to ensure the continuity of critical drinking water and wastewater services,” the spokesperson concluded.