Untreated sewage in key tourist spots, says EPA report
Waste water discharged into sea at surfing resort
RAW sewage is being pumped into rivers and bathing waters in some of our most scenic tourist areas because there is no treatment plant in place.
Effluent is being pumped into the water in 42 urban areas, including renowned surfing spot Bundoran in Donegal, as well as Cobh in Cork, which is the destination for cruise liners, and Roundstone in Connemara.
The Urban Waste Water Report from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) also says one in three incidents of pollution is caused by "poor management" of treatment plants operated by local authorities.
Some 44 of the 170 plants in large urban areas do not comply with EU quality standards, according to the EPA.
The report shows the scale of the challenge facing Irish Water, which took control of the water network in January.
It shows that despite investment of more than €500m a year in new treatment facilities over the past decade, plants are not being properly managed and further investment across the network is needed.
"Ireland has made progress in the last decade in treating waste water by investing in waste water infrastructure," said EPA spokesman Gerard O'Leary said.
He continued: "Despite this investment, sewage from 42 towns and villages discharges untreated into our rivers and coastal waters, putting the environment and people's health under threat. This practice needs to be eliminated.
"Once you flush the toilet, the contents go into the water. There has been a lot of work done, but raw sewage is getting into the environment."
The report shows:
* 94pc of waste water generated is treated to a high standard, three times the quantity of a decade ago;
* Some 69pc of treatment plants meet the standards, a 5pc improvement in previous years;
* Legal action is being taken against Galway County Council and Donegal County Council for failure to provide secondary, or more effective, treatment in plants at Clifden and Killybegs. A prosecution is pending due to lack of progress in providing any treatment in Bundoran.
* In Laois, 11 of the 14 treatment plants failed to meet standards.
The Department of the Environment said the report provided "further proof, if it were needed, of the importance of Irish Water with its ability to leverage funds (for investment)".
It added that it would begin negotiations with the European Commission about meeting legally-binding targets.
Among the areas of particular concern for the EPA is the fact that seven plants in large urban areas – including Killybegs in Donegal; Clifden in Galway; Youghal, Cobh, Passage West/Monkstown and Ringaskiddy/Crosshaven/Carrigaline in Cork and Arklow in Wicklow – do not have secondary treatment in place.
This is needed because the water is discharged into environmentally-sensitive areas. The plants were due to have the capability installed since 2005, and longer in some cases.
The report also expressed concern that just 41pc of improvement works required to be in place at the end of 2012 had been completed.