Dr Alec Rolston has been involved in a number of projects
Over the past six years, Dr Alec Rolston, from Dundalk Institute of Technology, has been involved in a number of projects in County Louth, with a focus on the waters and wetlands of the Cooley Peninsula and the rivers and coastal habitats of Dundalk Bay.
As principal investigator at the Centre for Freshwater and Environmental Studies, his work aims to highlight the issues impacting Dundalk’s water catchments, and he hopes the formation of a Dundalk Bay Catchment Partnership can help to improve the quality of local waters and habitats.
“Imagine a drop of rainwater falling from the sky. It lands on the ground and follows the contours of the natural landscape to join up with other water drops.
“They are channelled into streams and rivers, flowing towards a certain point such as the sea. The geographic area where all this water flows towards that same point, from the source to the sea, is called a catchment,” says Dr Rolston.
One of his key goals is integrated water management.
The Dundalk-based researcher explained: “This is about agencies, organisations and local communities working together to improve the quality of water resources. The establishment of a Dundalk Bay Catchment Partnership would help to achieve this.
“Our main goals are to protect and improve the water quality of our rivers, lakes and coastal water, and improve the biodiversity of our aquatic ecosystems.
“We also want to develop a water management environment and community that is more resilient to climate change,” Dr Rolston added.
“Creating a sustainable recreation and tourism industry along with our waterways, that provides benefits to the community, environment and local economy, is another key goal.
Dr Rolston says that Louth’s water gives him cause for concern though.
“Under the EU Water Framework Directive, no rivers flowing through County Louth are designated as being of high status, which would indicate excellent water quality," he explained,
“The Big River (in Cooley) has lost its high-status designation and is now classified as being of moderate status, as is the inner region of Dundalk Bay. Areas of the Fane, the Ballymacscanlon, the Glyde and the Dee Rivers have been designated as being of poor status.”
The DKIT researcher says the reasons for the lack of pristine water quality in Louth are varied.
“Key areas of concern include the input of nutrients and faecal bacteria from wastewater treatment plants, septic tanks and the spreading of animal waste and artificial fertiliser on agricultural land," he said.
Another area of concern for Louth’s water is chemicals.
“The input of chemicals from agriculture, such as using pesticides, can have a big effect on biodiversity and also drinking water quality. Chemicals from industry, from the dumping of waste generated through diesel laundering, and from the use of household products like detergents and pharmaceuticals all contribute as well," he said.
There are also fears that plastics, microplastics and microfibers can also enter Louth waters.
“Fly tipping and littering, drainage of wetlands, straightening of streams and rivers, invasive and non-native species, livestock accessing water bodies and population growth and development all impact on water quality," he said,
“Each of these issues can be managed by working together in an integrated manner to improve our local environment.”
Dr Rolston admits we need to be realistic in our approach to caring for our waters.
“There is no quick fix. There are often time lags between undertaking actions and observing the improvements… but a long journey begins with small steps," he concluded.