Public information on sewage overflows

I have submitted this motion to the SPC meeting which will happen at 4.30pm this afternoon;

“That this SPC recommends that the Council in accordance with Regulation 5 of the Access to information on the Environment Regulations, makes information on all overflows and irregular discharges from the wastewater network which it manages known to the public by putting it online as soon as possible and that the Chief Executive report on whether any contractual agreements with Irish Water cause a difficulty for making this information available and give details of the reporting procedure and format currently used for reporting this information to Irish Water.”

Here’s the background:

Sewage overflows and unplanned discharges happen for a number of reasons. These include failure of pumps or at pumping stations, infiltration of surface water from leaks or misconnections in the sewer causing overloading of the system, and the fact that some of the older sewers were combined systems, actually designed to take both surface water and sewage and to overflow in times of heavy rain.

Sewage overflows frequently cause nearby bathing waters to be closed to protect people from the risk of illness due to polluted water.

Decades of underinvestment in sewage infrastructure have left us with insufficient treatment capacity, broken sewer networks which allow surface water to infiltrate and old combined systems which need to be replaced with separate surface drains and foul sewers.

Frequently citizens notice (see/ smell) a change in water quality on the coast or in a stream and wonder whether it is linked to an overflow.

It’s not easy to get this information.

Fingal County Council maintains and operates the sewage collection and treatment system in the County on behalf of Irish Water. But even Councillors get told that Irish Water has to approve release of the information on when overflows happen.

The EPA requires Irish Water to collect and report information on overflows to it, but most of this reporting happens weeks or months later.

When I have gotten answers they are sometimes wrong.

In January 2018, after citizens noticed apparent pollution in the water I asked whether there had been any overflows or unplanned discharges from the Malahide treatment plant. I got this reply:

From: localrepsupport <>
Date: Wed, 17 Jan 2018 at 16:17
Subject: Irish Water – Sewerage overflow, Malahide Marina
To: <>

Dear Councillor Healy,

Thank you for your representation on behalf of a constituent reporting raw sewerage floating in Malahide Marina.

We have received an update from the Local Wastewater Department advising that on investigation two small scum masses were found along the marina wall, and no solids or rags were present. Also no overflows have occurred recently, therefore this does not appear to be an issue of sewage overflow from the nearby Wastewater Treatment Plant.

I apologise that we cannot be of further assistance on this occasion. If you have any further queries, please do not hesitate to contact us again.

Yours sincerely,

However, in early 2020 at an Area Cttee meeting I got information on overflows which showed that there was an uncontrolled discharge on 4th January 2108 (see Item 7 here.)

This year, after citizens noticed an unusual smell of the sea when I asked Irish Water directly I was given the details of 4 overflows in Howth in February 2021. However in March, the Council was told in response to a question I asked that there were no overflows in Howth/ Malahide in January / February.

Public bodies have a duty of active dissemination of environmental information (Article 5 of the Access to Information on the Environment Regulations) . When I put this to Irish Water, they disagreed, suggesting that this was somehow sensitive information which shouldn’t be released to the public.

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