Spreading slurry – look after water quality in the River Derg

Farmers asked to be aware of negative environmental consequences

Spreading slurry – look after water quality in the River Derg

Farmers asked to be careful when spreading slurry

Farmers in east Donegal have been asked to think carefully if they are spreading slurry near the River Derg.

A spokesman for Northern Ireland Water has today, (Thursday), warned that slurry should be applied and spread correctly otherwise there could be negative environmental consequences.

"We appreciate that farmers work very hard to look after the environment on a daily basis and ask everyone to think carefully before spreading slurry, or other organic manures, such as plant waste, so that there is no ammonia risk for our watercourses," said Roy Taylor, NI Water Catchment manager.

"This is particularly relevant at this time of year as slurry tankers are back in action after the winter closed period. It is well understood that Nitrogen is a critical component of our agricultural system with plant life being dependant on the nitrogen cycle to provide fresh farm produce from our local farms.

"However, if not managed correctly, nitrogen, (applications) from farm slurry can lead to negative environmental consequences in both gaseous forms and runoff to fresh waters.

“In recent months there have been concerning, raised levels of ammonia particularly in the River Derg, leading to shut downs of the local Water Treatment Works.

"If slurry is spread on poor, very wet ground or during or just before wet weather conditions it can run off the land and this results in high ammonia levels in our watercourses, which can be difficult and expensive to treat in order to provide the high quality drinking water we all expect.”

Drinking water is abstracted from the River Derg at Derg Water Treatment Works, downstream of Spamount, outside Castlederg, where the ammonia levels are automatically monitored 24/7 before the water enters the water treatment process.

Derg Water Treatment Works automatically shuts down every time the ammonia level rises above set levels, in order to protect our drinking water quality.

The ammonia problems do, however, have cost implications and water resource implications for NI Water as water production has to be stopped, sometimes for up to 14 hours at a time whenever very prolonged ammonia spikes occur.

"NI Water work hard to deal with the problem and can assure customers that tap water quality in the area is unaffected and is of a very high quality standard.

"However we want to appeal to everyone in the area to be vigilant and if you have any concerns about slurry or other pollution activities in the area that could impact the River Derg, report it to the 24/7 pollution hotline on 0800807060. The cause of these ammonia spikes is currently being investigated by NIEA staff in the area," said Mr Taylor.

In order to minimise the impact of ammonia from slurry, NI Water encourages farmers to follow best practice and only spread slurry where land and weather conditions allow, always checking weather forecasts before spreading as rainfall could wash valuable nutrients off your land.

Better management of slurry and manure can:

- Increase business profitability by maximising the value of slurries and manures.

- Minimise the risk of local watercourses becoming contaminated.

- Reduce the risk of disease transfer, if you abstract water from a watercourse or borehole as your source of livestock drinking water.

- Help to reduce the farm carbon footprint by maximising the value of your fertilisers.

- Contribute to protecting and enhancing local water quality for fish, wildlife and amenity use.

- Keep on the right side of the regulations and help to protect your farm basic payment.

It's a good fishing river too

The river has its source in the Lough Derg and it flows east and straddles the border outside Ballybofey before going through Castlederg and join to the River Strule to form the River Mourne.

The upper reaches of the catchment are characterised by peat land, while the lower reaches flow predominantly through farmland. The River Derg's length is 28 miles (45 km) long.

It's also a place which attracts fishermen from both sides of the border. It is a large (10-20 metres width) spate river with a fine head of wild brown trout and best known for summer salmon, grilse and sea trout which are generally at their best from late May to August.

Some fresh water is required to encourage runs of fish, although grilse and sea trout will edge upstream without a flood.

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