HEAVY water users will be required by law to apply for a licence to take supplies from rivers and lakes under new rules agreed by Cabinet.
Industry, farmers, commercial premises and Irish Water will have to prove the amount of water they take will not damage a source or the natural habitat dependent on it.
They will also be subject to restrictions during periods of drought. The measures are needed to protect rivers and lakes which are increasingly coming under strain during dry spells and to ensure priority goes to drinking water.
They are also required to bring Ireland into compliance with EU law. The country is being prosecuted for breaching the Water Framework Directive for the past 22 years.
Details are in the yet-to-be-published Water Environment (Abstractions and Associated Impoundments) Bill 2022. The Department of Housing said the bill was approved by Cabinet at the end of July.
“The minister intends to introduce the Bill in the Oireachtas once the new Dáil session beings,” it said. The bill is the latest version of legislation promised by the last three governments.
Environmental groups criticised the last version – published in 2019 – for setting the volumes of water that would be subject to licence too high.
It was proposed that only abstraction of more than 2,000 cubic metres or two million litres a day would need to be licensed except where water sources were vulnerable, in which case it would apply over 250,000 litres.
Lower volumes would have to be registered with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) but would not be subject to the full rigours of the licensing system. Registration has been required for abstractions of more than 25,000 litres since 2018 in preparation for the promised laws but these regulations have lacked teeth.
Despite the criticisms of the 2019 proposals, it is understood the current bill sticks largely to the same thresholds.
The Department previously rejected calls for a tighter regime, arguing it would be too onerous on water users and the EPA which will administer the licensing scheme.
However, the minister has sought external legal advice on the likelihood of the proposed regime satisfying EU requirements.
Research several years ago showed 6pc of water sources were significantly affected by large-scale abstraction but that is likely to rise.
Irish Water yesterday added Clonakilty to its list of areas where night-time water restrictions are now necessary between 11pm and 7am.
Tipperary has also been added to its list of areas where drinking water supplies are at risk because of falling water levels as the current warm, dry spell intensifies.
Eleven schemes, including those supplying Clonmel, Carrick-on-Suir and Fethard are under particular pressure.
A fresh plea was also issued to customers in many parts of Wexford to conserve water as levels there continue to drop.
Irish Water said demand rose 7.5pc in the county last week and with a heatwave forecast for the rest of this week, the situation is expected to become more challenging.
Special measures have been put in place now in 15 areas, mainly in the midlands and south, to ensure taps keep flowing and around another 60 areas are on a watch list over concerns they will not be able to keep up with demand.
Water restrictions could be needed in the weeks ahead as little rain is forecast.
Met Éireann has issued a yellow status warning for Leinster and Munster from tomorrow to Sunday, forecasting temperatures generally of 27C to 29C with night time heat not dipping below 15C.