Report reveals shocking quality of Tyrone rivers

Algae on a local pond
Algae on a local pond

A government report has revealed Dungannon District’s rivers as amongst the most polluted in Northern Ireland, blaming organic pollution from farms and septic tanks.

According to the latest Department of Environment water-management survey, six of the rivers or streams running through the district have been classified as ‘poor’ or ‘bad’ in terms of pollution, the lowest grades possible.

The rivers in critical state include the Blackwater tributary at Aughnacloy, the Crilly feeder, the Torrent river, the Tullyaran tributary, which flows through Donaghmore and Galbally, the Oona river, and the River Rhone, which flows through Moygashel.

Lough Neagh itself has also been rated ‘bad’ with the reasons listed as high numbers of phytoplankton, macrophytes and total phosphorus.

“There are a number of competing pressures on the Lough but monitoring and classification results indicate that the main impact on the ecology is due to nutrient enrichment”, said Minister of the Environment Mark H Durkan at the Northern Ireland Assembly last week.

A new management plan to address the problems is due to be published in December of this year, which will cover the period up to the year 2021, he added.

Fertiliser and animal waste from farms are the main sources of nitrates and phosphates seeping into local rivers and the lough, and poisoning it.

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, one of the highest in the North.

According to the Council for Nature Conservation and the Countryside 60 per cent of septic tank discharges in the Lough Neagh area are reaching surface waters, including many rivers popular with anglers.

A total of 14 per cent of phosphate pollution reaching Lough Neagh, which is Northern Ireland’s largest source of drinking water, comes from septic tanks.

The report also found that many septic tanks are not regularly emptied of sludge, and the number being emptied regularly is likely to diminish when charges are introduced as part of the Water Reform process.

The Department of Environment report commended local land owners, anglers, councils, environmental nongovernmental

organisations, local community groups and rivers trusts for the action undertaken to alleviate the effects of pollution, which include the controlling the growth of invasive plant species such as Japanese knotweed and giant hogweed on river banks.