Avoca River one of the six most polluted in Ireland
Six-year review of water quality finds that the Avoca river has one of the highest concentrations of metal, Esther Hayden reports
The Avoca River is one of the most polluted rivers in the county.
In its first six-year review of water quality under new European rules, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has warned that Ireland has failed to meet its clean-up targets.
Six rivers in the country were classed as badly polluted. They were the Tolka between Clonee and Clonsilla in Dublin; the Avoca in Co Wicklow; the Aughboy in Co Wexford; the Bredagh near Moville in Co Donegal; the Laurencetown stream in Co Galway; and the Srah river which runs into Lough Mask near Tourmakeady in Co Mayo.
It also revealed that the number of pristine waterways in the country fell to 21 in 2015 - down from 38 in 2009 and 500 in the late 1980s.
The review showed some improvements in water quality as 19 rivers were classed as badly polluted in the 2007-2009 period.
The EPA assessment covers the six-year period between 2010 and 2015 and is the first full, six-year, assessment of the status of our waters under the Water Framework Directive.
The report found that, nationally, the Avoca River accounted for one of the highest concentration of metals in water. The main areas where metals are frequently found at elevated concentrations are in the traditional mineral mining areas - most notably in Co Wicklow and Co Tipperary.
The Avoca was one of the rivers which accounted for a largest proportion of the cadmium, lead, chromium and zinc exceedances found in the country's rivers.
The report found that nationally the chemical status for transitional and coastal waters is good, with only the Avoca estuary, failing the Water Framework Directive standards for substances that are not ubiquitous in the water environment.
The assessment concludes that, while there has been little overall change in water quality in the six years up to the end of 2015, there has been:
• A failure to meet the planned national target of 13 per cent improvement in water status for the six-year period;
• A failure to prevent deterioration of water status at hundreds of water bodies around the country, which cancels out the improvements in water status at a similar number of water bodies in other parts of the country;
• Welcome progress relating to a continued reduction in the level of seriously polluted waters - only six river water bodies were categorised as 'Bad' in 2010-2015 compared to 19 in 2007-2009; and
• A continued and unwelcome decline in the number of our pristine rivers - only 21 sites achieved the highest quality rating from 2013-2015 compared to over 500 sites in the late 1980s.
Dr Matt Crowe, Director of the EPA's Office of Evidence and Assessment said: 'Clean and well-protected water is a key national asset and supports many important economic activities such as agriculture, manufacturing and tourism. We must do a lot more and work much harder at protecting this vital national asset.'
Overall, 91 per cent of groundwater bodies, 57 per cent of rivers, 46 per cent of lakes, 31 per cent of estuaries and 79 per cent of coastal waters were found to be of good quality under the Water Framework Directive. The Water Framework Directive, other than in exceptional circumstances, requires good water status for all water bodies.
Dr Crowe said: 'The good news is that we have almost eliminated the worst of the worst of polluted sites. Only six river water bodies were categorised as 'bad' in this assessment compared with 19 for the 2007-2009 period. The bad news is that the decline in our most pristine waters, the best of the best, has continued. We now need to put the necessary measures and resources in place to arrest any further deterioration of water status and to make necessary improvements. Decisions about what to do and who should do it and pay for it need to be based on scientific evidence and requires constructive engagement and collaboration across a wide range of stakeholders. By doing this, the right action can be taken in the right place by the right people and organisations.'
Andy Fanning, Programme Manager for the EPA's Office of Evidence and Assessment, said: 'While the national picture is relatively stable, some water bodies have improved while others have deteriorated, which highlights that not enough has been done to prevent deterioration of water quality. The EPA is assessing the significant pressures that are contributing to waters being in unsatisfactory condition or being at risk of deteriorating. The initial outcomes of this assessment were included in the draft River Basin Management Plan and provide the scientific basis for measures that will be prioritised in the final River Basin Management Plan that is due for publication at the end of 2017.'
Earlier this year, the European Commission said it was taking Ireland to court after repeated warnings over the pumping of raw sewage into rivers and the sea.
It said more than 30 towns and cities have inadequate treatment plants for waste water, putting human health at risk, and leaving the country potentially liable for millions of euros in anti-pollution fines.