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EU-funded SWELL project makes positive impact on Carlingford Lough and Lough Foyle

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Northern Ireland Water

6th Jun 2023

As World Environment Day is celebrated across the globe this week, a major cross-border project, aimed at improving water quality in Carlingford Lough and Lough Foyle through enhanced wastewater treatment, has been successfully completed with outputs exceeding targets set.

Launched in 2019, the Shared Waters Enhancement & Loughs Legacy (SWELL) project was awarded €35m under the EU’s INTERREG VA Programme, managed by the Special EU Programmes Body, to deliver two sewerage network and wastewater treatment projects to improve water quality in the shared transitional waters of Carlingford Lough and Lough Foyle, and provide improved wastewater treatment for an additional 10,000 people.

Match-funding for the project was provided by the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage in Ireland and the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs in Northern Ireland (DAERA).

The four-year project – led by NI Water working in partnership with Uisce Éireann (formerly Irish Water), the Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute (AFBI), Loughs Agency and East Border Region – also included an extensive water analysis programme and has recently culminated in the development of a suite of unique ecosystem models that can be used to shape further improvements in water quality in these shared waters.

Acknowledging the achievements of the SWELL project, Malcolm Noonan, Minister for State at the Department for Housing, Local Government and Heritage in Ireland, said: “Without safe and reliable water and wastewater infrastructure, social and economic development cannot happen. I am delighted to hear the difference that the SWELL project has made, and will make, to achieving water quality improvements in the shared waters of Carlingford Lough and Lough Foyle. The EU INTERREG VA has been a valued initiative for delivering collaborative projects across our jurisdictions to address common challenges faced on either side of the border. I would like to thank SEUPB and all the SWELL partners for their work in delivering this excellent four-year programme of work.”

Congratulating the SWELL project on its success, Gina McIntyre, Chief Executive of the Special EU Programmes Body (SEUPB), said: “Cross-border cooperation is vital if we are to help protect our shared environment. This project represented a significant and long-term investment by the INTERREG VA Programme to improve the water quality for those living in these regions.

“It is a testament to what can be achieved when we work together and take an evidence-based decision-making approach to help address a common problem that results in societal good.”

The two sewerage and wastewater treatment projects carried out under SWELL incorporated a total of eight infrastructure upgrades – four by each water utility. In addition, an extensive programme of catchment studies and ecosystem modelling, within the Carlingford Lough drainage basin (within Newry, Mourne & Down and Louth council areas) and the Lough Foyle drainage basin (comprising Derry City & Strabane and Donegal council areas) was undertaken.

Paul Harper, Director of Asset Delivery at NI Water, said: “NI Water was delighted to lead this strategic EU-funded project which was tasked with delivering improved wastewater treatment for an additional 10,000 people on a cross-border basis. I am delighted to report that the discharge improvements from the combined SWELL wastewater upgrades are almost double the target set, with the equivalent of over 19,000 more people set to benefit from the investment made.

“The exceptional results in enhanced wastewater effluent on both sides of the border – measured by the end of pipe discharge improvements – are a result of both water utilities working collaboratively to prioritise and align upgrades and to share knowledge and best practice to make the maximum positive impact on the shared waterbodies on the island of Ireland.

“I’d like to take this opportunity to thank the SWELL partners and all our contractors, consultants and scientists for their work over the last four years and for bringing this cross-border project to a successful conclusion.”

Tracey Teague, Deputy Secretary at DAERA said: “As its legacy, SWELL has developed a novel soil-to-sea ecosystem modelling toolbox for the two coastal transboundary waterbodies of Carlingford Lough and Lough Foyle and their catchments. This unique toolbox will allow environmental managers and regulators on both sides of the border to make evidence-based decisions to support the sustainable management of productive, healthy and biodiverse aquatic ecosystems and will ensure future investment is targeted to areas where further water quality improvements can be achieved.”