Half of all raw sewage fails to get full safety treatment
Half of all sewage produced every day, or more than 500 million litres, is discharged without being treated to the appropriate standard, a damning report finds.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says that raw sewage continues to be discharged without any treatment, plants are not being properly managed, some treatment systems are unable to cope with the load being generated and higher standards for treatment in Dublin and Cork are not being implemented.
It will be 2021 before the dangerous practice of discharging raw sewage is discontinued, with Irish Water's plans to upgrade and develop new plants falling behind schedule.
"Wastewater from over half our population failed to meet environmental standards. Things aren't getting better," director of the EPA's Office of Environmental Enforcement Gerard O'Leary said. "In 1996, there were 100 discharges of raw sewage. In 20 years, we've only managed to eliminate half of them. We were supposed to have the job finished in 2005, and that's not good."
The 'Urban Wastewater Treatment in 2016' report says that sewage from 120,000 people living in 44 communities is being discarded into waters every day, and it will be another four years before many areas have treatment facilities in place.
It says the pace of improvements "falls far short" of EPA requirements, with less than half (44pc) of improvement works due between 2009 and 2016 reported as being completed.
"Not enough" money has been invested in wastewater treatment, with capital expenditure of €172m incurred last year - nearly €100m less than the average spend between 2000 and 2011 - and a "substantial increase" in spending is needed.
Plants in 50 of the country's 185 large towns and cities fail to comply with standards to prevent pollution and protect public health - including Ringsend, in Dublin, and Cork - 12 years after an EU deadline to bring them up to standard expired.
These 50 areas account for 64pc of all wastewater collected in urban areas.
The lack of treatment resulted in four bathing areas being deemed unsafe to swim in last year due to health risks caused by sewage. Irish Water was prosecuted five times last year for breaches of the rules, with seven prosecutions under way.
More than one billion litres of wastewater is collected every day, and the European Commission is prosecuting Ireland for failure to ensure wastewater is properly collected and treated.
It was "essential" that Irish Water complete works and improve operations to bring Ireland into line with EU rules, and avoid "large financial penalties".
Irish Water said that spending on wastewater would rise to €326m over the coming years as projects came on stream, and that it was managing 1,400 projects totalling €2.2bn.
It admitted there had been some delays, but was committed to improving the system.