LOUGH NEAGH WATER QUALITY IMPROVES

LOUGH NEAGH WATER QUALITY IMPROVES

A recent seminar was organised by Lough Neagh Partnership to examine the trends in water quality. The seminar, part of a Union European INTERREG Northern Peripheries programme, was attended by partners from Finland, Sweden, Iceland the Faroes and Ireland. Partners from Northern Ireland included the Lough Neagh Partnership and AFBI (Agri food and Biosciences Institute).

Representatives from Northern Ireland Environment Agency Water Management Unit provided a concise description of how water bodies are monitored and the 40 different biological and chemical parameters that are used to provide an indicator of a river or lake’s water quality status, ranging from Bad to Good.

Water quality in Northern Ireland was compared from 2015 to 2018 and in 2015 32.7% was classified as ‘good’ or better whilst in 2018 the percentage of river water bodies classified as ‘good’ or better has fallen slightly to 31.3% of NI. So some slight bad news for some of our catchments with soluble phosphorous, regarded as the one of the main limiting factors in holding back water quality status.

Whilst phosphorus levels in Lough Neagh remain high, and it is regarded as Eutrophic, it was clear the overall quality of water in the Lough has improved moving from Bad to Poor status. There is still some way to go and the issue of phosphorus that is retained in shoreline soils and in the lough’s bed will take some time to flush out but the trend of improvement in water quality is positive and something to celebrate.

Conor Jordan, chairperson, Lough Neagh Partnership, thanked everyone who attended the seminar and noted: “It is clear that lots of great work has been carried out on Lough Neagh and its Catchments. The trend of water quality in the 1970s and 80s was very poor. But with major infrastructure and investment by NI Water in Sewage plant upgrading and the implementation of the Water Framework Directive, the trend is now more positive and it is a good news water quality story for Lough Neagh.”

There has been a tremendous amount of work carried out by the NIEA Water Management unit in partnership with local River trusts such as the Ballinderry River and Six Mile Water River Trust, Local Councils, NI Water AFBI and the Lough Neagh Partnership.

WaterPro Partner Update: AFBI

WaterPro Partner Update: AFBI

Despite the implementation of EU regulations controlling the use of fertilisers inImage 1 AFBI agriculture, reserves of phosphorus (P) in soils continue to pose a threat to water quality. Mobilisation and transport of this legacy P from soil to surface waters has been highlighted as a probable and likely cause of many water bodies continuing to fail to achieve targets under the Water Framework Directive. Over recent decades, the CENIT grassland site (Fig 1) in AFBI Hillsborough has provided some insights into these concerns. From 2000 these grassland plots received P fertiliser amendments and from 2005 P applications ceased and subsequently P losses in runoff and drain flow from each plot were monitored closely until 2012. Unexpectedly, the concentration time series of losses across the plots were almost identical infact the control plot which received no P additions from 2000, and remained at Olsen P index 2 for the duration of the study, lost as much P as those plots receiving heavy applications of P until 2005.

 

The majority of agriculture in N.Ireland is grass-based with the production of dairy and Image 2 AFBIbeef cattle being prevalent and as such, methodologies to protect environmental water quality from agricultural runoff are of utmost importance if the region is to meet its goals under the EU Water Framework Directive. This is recognised in the recently published Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs “Sustainable Agricultural Land Management Strategy report and Executive summary” where there are recommendations for woody riparian strips, populated by plants such as willow which can withstand wet conditions and can be coppiced regularly for biomaterials (fuel or further processing). It is suggested that these strips, or bio-filtration blocks, will slow the flow of surface water, collect the sediment and absorb the Phosphorus before it enters the watercourse.

 

AFBI refurbished and planted riparian strips of SRC willow on 3 of 6 CENIT blocks in Image 3 AFBIMay 2016 and has been continuing with automatic overland and drainage water sampling since them. Within the cycle of SRC willow establishment are phases of land preparation, planting, establishment and cutback. Through these stages a number of issues have been dealt with including herbicide spray drift, insect and slug infestations and unexpected frosts. These let to the requirements for vigilance and some gapping up. Strong regrowth can now be seen (Fig 2). Even though there are some signs that both soluble and particulate loads are reducing as a result of the SRC willow intervention, these are not statistically significant at this stage however the plantations have been in their early days.

WaterPro Partners Visit Ireland

WaterPro Partners Visit Ireland

EU PARTNERS VISIT IRELAND FOR COLLABORATIVE EUROPEAN WATER QUALITY IMPROVEMENT PROJECT – WATERPRO

Nine partners from Northern Europe, including the lead partner Savonia University of Applied Sciences (Finland) as well as partners from Sweden, Iceland, Faroe Islands and Northern Ireland recently attended an international conference in Letterkenny looking at bioremediation methods to manage runoff from agriculture, mining and landfills.

WaterPro Partners

WaterPro Project Partners

The conference, which was hosted by Donegal County Council, is part of an innovative EU funded project called WaterPro which aims to develop sustainable systems to protect water quality from agricultural and mining pollution.

GER_8277-2One of the highlights of the conference was a site visit to Churchtown Landfill site in Lifford, which has been capped and covered.  This uses a combination of an irrigated willow plantation and integrated constructed wetlands to treat leachate before it enters the River Finn.  The River Finn is one of Europe’s best salmon and sea trout rivers and Donegal County Council is committed to protecting this wonderful resource by ensuring that all leachate is treated effectively.

GER_8250-2The Council has introduced a plant based leachate treatment system at Churchtown and as part of the WaterPro project, the Council will, in close consultation with the Environment Protection Agency, will provide data and methodological information with a view to ensuring that similar systems can be replicated elsewhere.

The visiting delegates also attended their own project management meeting on Tuesday in Inishowen and was followed by a visit to Ireland’s most northerly point at Malin Head.

WaterPro visit to Lough NeaghThe delegates were then transported to Lough Neagh, where they visited two potential pilot sites at Washing Bay and Oxford Island.  The focus was on the eco services benefits from the management of water quality on these sites.  This was followed by a presentation from the Northern Ireland Environment Agency Water Management Unit, highlighting the main aspects of water quality improvement associated with the Neagh Bann Catchment Management Plan.

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Ville Matikka from Savonia University of Applied Sciences stated “it is fundamental to meet with other partners throughout Europe who have been involved in practical water quality improvement projects.  WaterPro is an excellent opportunity to learn best practice and transfer knowledge to and from other areas.”

WaterPro is funded through the Northern Peripheries Transnational Interreg Programme

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PROGRESSIVE COLLABORATIVE EUROPEAN WATER QUALITY IMPROVEMENT PROJECT

PROGRESSIVE COLLABORATIVE EUROPEAN WATER QUALITY IMPROVEMENT PROJECT

Lough Neagh Partnership Seek Water Quality Solutions in Sweden

Over nine partners from around the whole of Northern Europe, including lead partner Savonia University of Applied Sciences (Finland), and of course the local Lough Neagh Partnership met in Sweden at the end of November 2016 to discuss ideas and make suggestions on how to address nitrate run off problems from agricultural and mining water sources.

At the meeting, which is part of the Northern Peripheries Transnational Interreg Programme, each of the partners gave a presentation on the main agricultural and mining sites associated with their own area, highlighting particular run off problems whilst proposing research based solutions.  Gerry Darby from the Lough Neagh Partnership stressed the problems created by nitrate and phosphate run off into the Lough Neagh catchment are mainly from agricultural sources. He noted that “Whilst farmers and government departments are working together to slowly address this problem, it is important to consider other methods being used in other parts of Europe to see if these can be transferred to parts the Lough Neagh Catchment.” The meeting kicked off at Lulea University of Technology before travelling north to the Arctic Circle at Kiruna Iron Ore Mine, Sweden, one of the largest mines in Europe supplying 60% of all iron to the European market.



Waterpro partners



The mine has a history of nitrate run off issues hence practical mitigating suggestions were provided by the Swedish partners on how to address this pollution concern.  A previous meeting of all the partners was held in the Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute (AFBI), Hillsborough in June 2016, where the benefits of planting a Short Rotational Willow Coppice System were explained and the key mitigation measures of the system were identified, including environmental protection for streams, rivers, lakes, environmental compliance, and biomass energy  production. It is intended that the transfer of this practical knowledge from the different sites and partners can be brought back to Lough Neagh and utilised to address nitrate and phosphate run off in some of the smaller catchments around the Lough so as to compile practical proposals to start addressing and reversing this water quality problem.

Nutrients in agricultural runoff are one of the major contributors to eutrophication and algal blooms, which leads to a loss of biodiversity in our local lakes and rivers; whilst Ammonium nitrate based explosives used in mining operations often result in nitrogen leaching via runoff. It is inevitable that global climate change will increase the frequency of floods and water volumes in Northern, Periphery and Arctic (NPA) areas increasing further the potential for pollution. Hence the Waterpro project, championed by the Northern Peripheries Transnational Interreg Programme, aims to provide more eco efficient runoff management tools and models in the Northern Periphery Area in anticipation of the effects of climate change and facilitate faster transfer of knowledge and develop wider cooperation within the Northern Periphery Area improving runoff management systems and techniques.  

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Welcome to WaterPro

Welcome to WaterPro

What is WaterPro?

Water Pro is part of the Northern Periphery and Arctic Programme which attempts to help peripheral and remote communities on the northern margins of Europe to develop their economic, social and environmental potential.  WaterPro is a new transnational cooperation project which will attempt to find new ways to address shared environmental challenges of pollution and nutrient runoff from agricultural and mining practice and explore new ways to address these problems.

WaterPro Lough Neagh

Through collaboration, the WaterPro Project wishes to improve environmental protection and reduce the impact of runoff from agriculture and mining extraction. This will be done through the development of a tool-box of good management practices, and a communication platform together with implementation of several innovative low cost practices at a variety of pilot sites.

The ultimate goal of WaterPro is to help protect the water quality of the NPA region’s coastal and freshwaters, protect human health and ecosystems and stimulate sustainable economic growth and development in the Northern Periphery Area.

Launch of New Research Partnership on Water Quality at AFBI

Launch of New Research Partnership on Water Quality at AFBI

The Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute recently hosted the Launch Event for a major new Interreg VB research project which aims to develop sustainable systems to protect water quality from diffuse agricultural and mining pollution. AFBI is a major partner in this EU funded Interreg VB – Northern Periphery & Arctic project which has an overall value of approximately €2m. The project is led by the Savonia University of Applied Sciences in Finland and other partners include: the Finnish Geological Survey; the Agricultural University of Iceland; Luleå University of Technology Sweden; the Lough Neagh Partnership; Heriot Watt University in Scotland; Donegal County Council; and the Agricultural Agency of the Faroe Islands.

WaterPro PartnersThe Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute recently hosted the Launch Event for a major new Interreg VB research project which aims to develop sustainable systems to protect water quality from diffuse agricultural and mining pollution. AFBI is a major partner in this EU funded Interreg VB – Northern Periphery & Arctic project which has an overall value of approximately €2m. The project is led by the Savonia University of Applied Sciences in Finland and other partners include: the Finnish Geological Survey; the Agricultural University of Iceland; Luleå University of Technology Sweden; the Lough Neagh Partnership; Heriot Watt University in Scotland; Donegal County Council; and the Agricultural Agency of the Faroe Islands.

WaterPro site visit at AFBIAFBI’s contribution to the project will focus on the use of Short Rotation Coppice (SRC) willow to reduce nutrient export from agriculture.  SRC willow is a fast growing hardwood that takes up large volumes of water and can also utilise the nutrients found in runoff from agricultural sources.  If these nutrients enter lakes and rivers they can result in deterioration in water quality. In addition, SRC willow also provides farmers with an economically viable crop and sustainable source of biomass for energy production on-farm and elsewhere. This project aims to build on previous work carried out by AFBI on SRC willow (see www.afbini.gov.uk) by demonstrating the contribution that SRC willow can make to the sustainable intensification of agriculture in Northern Ireland by reducing nutrient export and lowering the carbon footprint while maintaining farm profitability.

AFBI Farm visit, WaterProFuture growth in the local agri-food sector as projected under the Going for Growth strategy increases the requirement for sustainable recycling and management of wastes. In addition, the EU Water Framework Directive sets stringent targets for water quality across the region. The use of SRC willow provides a solution that can help achieve these dual objectives.

For further details contact Chris Johnston (chris.johnston@afbini.gov.uk)

 

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