New data to be used to target farms polluting rivers and lakes

Agriculture key pollution pressure in 64% of ‘At Risk’ rivers and lakes

Ciaran Moran

Ciaran Moran

Agriculture has been identified as a significant pressure in 729 (64%) river and lake water bodies that are At Risk of not meeting their environmental objective.

That’s according to figures detailed in the River Basin Management Plan (RBMP) for Ireland 2018-2021 published today and which is now subject to public consultation for six months.

The Impacts from Agriculture are evident in all catchments but are most prevalent in the eastern half of the country, particularly in areas where there are poorly drained soils and subsoils, for example, Cavan, Monaghan, Meath .

The pressures relate to diffuse run-off of nutrients and sediment from land, and point source pollution associated with farmyards.

Under the new plan Governmental approach to enforcement of the nitrates regulations will be 'maintained and strengthened'.

Data from the EPA will be used to identify catchments where Local Authorities should prioritise agricultural inspections.

Meanwhile, it says the Department of Agriculture will continue to undertake inspections in support of Local Authorities and to share information that assists in targeting inspections.

Primary responsibility for enforcement on farms lies with the local authorities. Local Authorities undertake 2,000 inspections each year on farms that have not previously been visited or have not been inspected in a number of years.

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In addition, around 1,500 follow up visits take place annually where minor non- compliance has been identified, to ensure the problems are corrected. The Department of Agriculture has provided training to Local Authority staff to ensure there is a consistent approach to inspections across the whole country.

In addition to these local authority inspections the Department of Agriculture carry out a further 3,000 farm inspections – 1,650 of which relate to ensuring compliance with the Nitrates regulations and 1,350 which relate to cross compliance inspections.

The Department also carry out administrative checks for all farms with regard to the livestock manure nitrogen limit laid down in regulation.

Based on these inspections, compliance rates are almost 70% - with the majority of non-compliance issues relating to management within the farmyard, meaning minor changes to farmyard management (e.g. cleaning up small spillages of silage or diverting clean water away from storage tanks) can increase compliance levels.

As the Department of Agriculture is the paying agency for EU CAP funds, problems found during inspection by Local Authorities or other Departments or agencies are cross reported to it and may result in monetary penalties for the farmer involved.

The plan also sets out that it is accepted that Ireland faces significant challenges in meeting water quality targets while increasing production in the agricultural sector, and a key recommendation of the Food Wise 2025 strategy is the need to monitor the environmental impacts of the strategy.

It says the Department of Agriculture will work closely with relevant agencies to ensure this monitoring takes place.

The draft plan also outlines measures aimed at protecting and improving the water environment, working towards achieving the Water Framework Directive’s (WFD) objectives.

Among the draft plan’s main measures are:

  • planned investment by Irish Water of approximately €1.7 billion in wastewater projects, programmes and improved asset management over the period to 2021 - delivering new or upgraded wastewater treatment plants in 105 agglomerations or urban areas and bringing Ireland into compliance with the Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive;
  • 353 risk assessments of drinking water sources by Irish Water by 2021;
  • 50,000 farmers participating and implementing actions to improve the rural environment, including actions to improve water quality under the Rural Development Programme’s (RDP) €1.4 billion GLAS Scheme (2014-2020). To support these actions, the National Dairy Sustainability Forum will establish a dairy co-op-led pilot knowledge transfer programme on better nutrient management and farm point source pollution management. This will be implemented for dairy farmers supplying cooperatives;
  • a ‘Blue Dot Catchments Programme’, a programme to create awareness and promote best practice to protect our highest quality waters;
  • improved RBMP governance and delivery structures and development of a strengthened evidence base upon which to make decisions;
  • establishment of a national water forum to increase stakeholder and public engagement on all water issues, including WFD implementation – this will involve expanding the remit of the existing Public Water Forum, a consumer forum for Irish Water customers; and
  • establishment of a comprehensive database for water abstractions greater than 25 cubic meters per day.

Commenting on the draft plan, Simon Coveney, Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government said water is critical to the wellbeing of our society and economy.

"It is essential that it is protected, managed and used sustainably. Good water quality is vital for protecting the environment, public health and our economy, which sustains over 200,000 water-intensive jobs.

"The plan aims to protect our water environment and promote the sustainable use of water so that we and future generations will continue to enjoy access to one of our greatest natural resources.

“This plan contains important measures to improve water quality, protect drinking water sources and see a significant increase in wastewater treatment capacity. If we implement these measures with focus and coordination we will see progressive improvement in water quality over time, greater protection of public health and biodiversity and greater economic opportunity,” he said.

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