NORTHERN Ireland Water has moved to allay fears that large quantities of untreated sewage are being discharged into the sea as a result of an electrical fault at a local pumping station.
Nigel Hamiliton, a representative from the newly formed environmental lobby group the East Antrim Marine Alliance, contacted the Times this week claiming that thousands of litres of unscreened human effluent was being pumped into the sea at the Blackcave sewer pipe.
The former Newtownabbey councillor, who is a member of Marine Conservation NI, expressed concerns that the “ongoing problem” posed a health risk to those who swim at local beaches such as Browns Bay and Ballygally.
And he added that the pollution was contributing to the “poor performance” of local beaches in this year’s Good Beach Guide, which saw Ballygally relegated from the list of recommended beaches for swimming.
Mr Hamilton told the Times: “While Ballygally and Browns Bay beaches have performed poorly in this year’s NI Good Beach Guide, this new problem at Blackcave pumping station will do nothing to improve the quality of water. We are angry that while 75 per cent of beaches show an improvement, Ballygally has shown a decline in water quality from the 2010 EC Bathing Water Directive Compliance and has only squeezed through to meet the minimum legal mandatory standard.
“Browns Bay has shown no improvement and this only goes to demonstrate that little if no pressure is being put on NIW to undertake the necessary improvements needed to resolve the low standard of water quality on these beaches. In 2015, EU regulations will change to force up even higher standards. It remains unacceptable that NI Water are allowed to do nothing to improve the system for sewage filtration in Larne area to make our waters cleaner and safer for both locals and tourists.”
However, while NI Water accepted that there had been a fault with the pumping station, it added that swift action had been taken to address the problem as soon as it was discovered.
A spokesperson for the company added: “Blackcave is a sewage pumping station where incoming sewage is screened before being pumped to Larne Wastewater Treatment Works. This site does have storm retention capacity and an emergency overflow facility, as is standard practice at any pumping station.
“However, the pumps at the Blackcave pumping station failed on April 30 due to an electrical fault in the main control panel; this also affected the telemetry on the site resulting in NI Water not being immediately aware of the issue.
“As a result, sewage which was screened to NIEA standards and effluent settled in the storm tanks associated with the pumping station before flowing out through a high level overflow to sea.
“We were made aware of the problem by NIEA on May 1 and dispatched staff to the site on the morning of May 2 to rectify the electrical fault. NI Water therefore reacted within a reasonable timescale to this matter and the full wastewater pumping station is now operating correctly.”
A spokesman for the Department of the Environment confirmed that the situation had been resolved and added: “On May 1, NIEA received a report of water pollution from an official of Larne Borough Council in relation to Blackcave sewage pumping station. An NIEA official investigated the report and, although a discharge from the asset was confirmed, there was no significant water pollution occurring.
“Following set procedures, the incident was reported to Northern Ireland Water in order to have the situation resolved. NIEA has received no further complaints of water pollution in relation to the site since the report on May 1.”