Water quality in one in three Irish rivers and lakes is at risk of deteriorating
Water quality in one in three rivers and lakes is at risk of deteriorating due to pressures from agriculture, urban wastewater and other sources of pollution
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says that despite EU rules requiring improvements over time, there has been “too much deterioration” over recent years.
Director of the Office of Evidence and Assessment, Dr Matt Crowe, told the National Water Event in Galwaythat while Ireland's environment was “generally good”, there were “underlying issues of concern”.
“While the worst of the rivers have improved, we have lost the best of the best,” he said. “National figures mask what's going on at a local level. It sounds like an obvious thing to say but of all the messages we're trying to get across was the link between a good quality environment and health.”
Of some 4,000 river and lake water bodies, 1,360 or 34pc are at risk, often from multiple pressures.
He said that in 1998, new regulations around phosphorous came into force and at the time, some 150 water bodies were affected with high levels. This had since reduced to around 20.
“There is no deterioration allowed,” he added. “The Water Framework Directive doesn't allow it, but the 1998 phosphorous regulations didn't allow it either.
“It's really clear what the scale of the challenge is. There's too much deterioration. There's been a lot of improvement as well, and the EPA is doing a lot of work on the science as to why we have deterioration on certain sites.”
The conference also heard that the State had allocated €1.7bn to Irish Water to complete upgrades of wastewater treatment plants, which would help reduce pollution levels.
Assistant secretary at the Department of Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government, Maria Graham, said there had been a “continued loss” of high status waters, and it was “criticially important” to see improvements given that 400,000 jobs were in water intensive industries.
She said that River Basin Management Plans, currently out for public consultation, would lead to improvements in water of 150 water bodies by 2021, with an industry-led initiative to manage pressures from agriculture.
Investment in more than 100 wastewater treatment plants was proposed, and assessments of public health risks from 353 drinking water sources will have taken place.
“We're not going to over-promise, but to promise what we can deliver. It will be clear as to what's being done, who's doing it, and the timelines,” she added.
“We have to remember there are 400,000 jobs in water intensive industries. This is why the links between agriculture and water are criticially important. Water is more than just public health and compliance issues, it has a heritage and economic value.”