They were once gently flowing rivers renowned for their natural beauty and stocked with trout, sticklebacks, and roach, as well as migrating salmon and eels.
However, the latest figures from the Department of the Environment reveal that the East Tyrone river system is in crisis with some 25 convictions for pollution offences in the last five years, including one custodial sentence, the highest number for any district in Northern Ireland.
A total of £25,425 in financial penalties has been imposed on Dungannon’s farmers, business and land owners, rising from £1,850 in 2009 to a high of £13,250 in 2012.
Clogged with septic tank run-off and choked with agricultural and industrial waste, local water courses have been treated as convenient dumping grounds, devastating fish populations and harming wildlife.
In April, more than 1000 fish were killed along a stretch of the Oona River, the biggest pollution incident of its kind in Northern Ireland this year.
Investigators blamed an “agricultural source” for the fish kill which was classed as of “high severity”.
The incident came just weeks after a Dungannon farmer was given a suspended jail sentence and a £7,000 fine for polluting a tributary of the Ballinderry river.
Among the other shocking abuses local waters have been subjected to were a series of red diesel spills on Dungannon’s Park Lake, untreated sewage pumped into the Killymoon river by Northern Ireland Water, as well as numerous slurry runoffs from farms. Alarm has also been raised over the number of septic tanks in the Dungannon area after figures estimated that there are about 5000 systems operating in the district.
According to a leading environmental charity, the building boom in the area has resulted in the proliferation of septic tanks which is leading to the pollution.