On a visit to Cavan, Eamon Ryan, T.D., Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, highlighted two important initiatives being undertaken by the Geological Survey of Ireland (GSI) to underpin the continued economic development of the region.
The first initiative the Minister highlighted is a flagship cross-border tourism project - the Breifne Project - which aims to celebrate and promote the natural and cultural landscapes of the Breifne area as a sustainable tourism resource.
While visiting the offices of the project, Minister Ryan praised the project developers for their innovation and dynamism in drawing together five county councils - as well as the Geological Survey of Ireland, the Geological Survey of Northern Ireland and the University of Ulster - to participate in developing the area.
"This project is a tangible example of the kind of benefits that cross-border co-operation can bring. The Breifne region includes the Marble Arch Caves in County Fermanagh, which have already been designated by UNESCO as a European and Global Geopark - one of only two on the island of Ireland.
"I hope that Breifne can achieve their ambition of becoming the first trans-national Geopark in the world and attract tourists from across the world" - the Minister said.
Cavan Groundwater Scheme
Speaking at the offices of Cavan County Council, Minister Ryan announced the beginning of the production of a Groundwater Protection Scheme for County Cavan by the Geological Survey of Ireland.
"Ensuring the high quality of our drinking water is one of the highest priorities for this Government - at both local and national levels. Groundwater provides between 20% and 25% of our national drinking water supplies - and, indeed, in many areas, groundwater is the only source of supply.
"Accordingly, it is imperative that this resource be protected, which can only be achieved through appropriate land-use planning and practice" - Minister Ryan said.
Groundwater Protection Schemes are county-based projects designed to preserve the quality of groundwater - particularly for drinking water purposes - for the benefit of present and future generations. The Cavan scheme will produce a county-wide land-use zonation map to assist in groundwater protection. In addition, five public water supplies, sourced from groundwater in the county, are being studied in detail to produce protection areas for these sources.
Groundwater protection responses for potentially polluting activities are provided for different mapped land zones. At present, responses have been developed for landfills, on-site wastewater treatment systems (septic tanks) and landspreading of licensed organic wastes - with still more in planning.
"GSI's groundwater protection schemes are central to the development of appropriate practices in this area. With the recent water problems in Galway - incidentally, the location of the second GSI protection scheme currently ongoing - it is clear just how important it is to delineate areas of particular vulnerability and to respond accordingly" - concluded the Minister.
Since 2003, the Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government has recommended that groundwater protection schemes be incorporated into County Development Plans.
To-date, GSI has completed groundwater protection schemes for 14 local authorities - Clare, Cork (South), Donegal, Kildare, Kilkenny, Laois, Limerick, Meath, Monaghan, Offaly, Roscommon, South Tipperary, Wicklow and Waterford - and an interim scheme in North Tipperary. Apart from Cavan, work is presently on-going in Galway and, currently, there are requests for schemes from six other local authorities.
GSI undertakes each scheme under the auspices of its national plan for groundwater protection schemes.
The output from groundwater protection schemes is a series of 8 large scale maps (1:50,000 for regional maps; 1:10,000 or 1:25,000 for source protection maps) with an accompanying explanatory report. The series of maps comprise -
1. bedrock geology map
2. subsoil geology map
3. outcrop and depth-to-bedrock map
4. hydrogeological data map
5. aquifer map
6. groundwater vulnerability map
7. groundwater protection zone map - and
8. groundwater source protection zone maps.
A digital product is also provided to the local authority for inclusion in their own GIS system.
As part of the groundwater protection scheme, GSI delivers a range of maps and reports that identify aquifers (rocks that store and transmit water in significant quantities), areas of vulnerability and groundwater resource/source protection zones. The groundwater vulnerability data that GSI generates are important because they describe a pathway through which pollution may travel and also indicate how much of the rainfall may replenish groundwater.