BORD na Móna has warned that approval for the development of a massive man-made reservoir in the midlands to store water drained from the Shannon is essential to guarantee future water supplies for the greater Dublin area.
The semi-state body yesterday revealed details of its controversial €540 million eco-park, to be located in Co Laois, which would incorporate a 700-acre reservoir on the site of a former bog as well as a range of water leisure facilities.
They are proposing to extract just over 2.2% of the total water flow from the Shannon at high-water levels from a location north of Lough Derg as part of a project, which will need the support of both the Department of the Environment and Dublin City Council.
It plans to store the water in the reservoir to be built on the site of a depleted bog at Garryhinch, located between Portarlington and Mountmellick, about 65km from the Shannon, before being pumped onwards to consumers in the greater Dublin area.
Bord na Móna chief executive Gabriel D’Arcy admitted the issue was of "vital national interest", but could be "emotive and divisive".
However, he stressed that it represented a great opportunity to create jobs and other benefits in the area.
He also pointed out that the Shannon is technically flooded for eight months each year on average.
It is estimated the project could create 1,000 jobs during its construction phase and up to 150 jobs in the longer term.
Bord na Móna director of strategic infrastructure, Colm Ó Gogáin told the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Energy, whose members will visit Garryhinch today, that approval for the project would be required soon if it was to become operational by 2020.
Mr Ó Gogáin said the ability of local authorities to supply water to Dublin was reaching critical point due to increased demand as well as the fact that 28% of water currently supplied was lost through leakage.
He claimed Dublin City Council has already issued water-shortage warnings this year as levels had fallen near record lows.
Mr Ó Gogáin said the use of the reservoir as an interim storage point for 15 million cubic metres of water was essential to ensure the sustainability of water supplies for the greater Dublin area as well as Laois, Offaly and Westmeath.
Responding to concern expressed by some TDs and senators, he explained that the current proposal was to extract four cubic metres of water per second when the river’s average flow rate is 180 cubic metres per second.
Mr Ó Gogáin described the alternative of desalination as "the option of last choice" due to its higher capital and operational costs.
Clare Fianna Fáil TD Timmy Dooley said he was "absolutely opposed" to the project as it would have a negative impact on the existing infrastructure of the Shannon as a leisure amenity. He accused Bord na Móna of engaging in spin by presenting their proposals as a tourist project.
James Bannon, a Longford Fine Gael TD, said his constituents believed any extraction of water from the Shannon represented a "gross violation".
Meanwhile, Bord na Móna also openly declared its interest in taking on the role of a new national water authority proposed in both the Programme for Government and the EU/IMF bailout agreement.