For decades politicians have been silent on the well-known fact that raw sewerage has been routinely flowing into the River Erne. Former NI Water workers report sewerage having had to be suctioned out when the volumes got too great. Anglers report an underlayer of congealed waste in stagnant pools located around the town.
Like many other towns in the North, Enniskillen retains a Victorian-era style sewer system designed to deal with excessive volumes of brown water by allowing it to overflow into the river. The problem is that the system hasn’t received proper investment for decades so now every time we get a heavy rain (regularly!) sewer water floods out of the top of the combined sewer outlets. What is worse, it has been confirmed in writing to Cllr O’Cofaigh that grills meant to filter solid matter from overflowing have been removed to reduce costs of staff having to clear them out regularly (all to meet Stormont austerity budgets).
Northern Ireland is the only region in the UK where the water service has not yet been privatised. That fact largely reflects the strong campaign fought by the trade union movement, in many cases led by members of the Committee for a Workers’ International, that defeated cross-party attempts (including from Sinn Féin Ministers) to roll out water charges in the early 2000s.
Northern Ireland water was established as a government-owned company – owned by the Department for Infrastructure. Unfortunately, the Stormont Executive has repeatedly failed to prioritise investment on this infrastructure – despite growing warnings of both economic and environmental impacts arising.
The impact of untreated wastewater entering water bodies has been catastrophic for the fresh water ecology and fish stocks. Angling has been hugely impacted and water quality in virtually all major water bodies has deteriorated.
Such impacts have largely been ignored by the Stormont parties, as they are largely non-economic.
What is starting to focus minds; however, is the fact that the ability of property developers to build houses is now increasingly constrained by the inability of wastewater treatment works to cope. Northern Ireland Water estimates that 116 cities, towns and villages have had their development constrained.