Irish environmental regulator warns about declining water quality

The Irish Republic’s Environmental Protection Agency has reported “unwelcome declines in Irish water quality,” in hundreds of water bodies around the country.

This trend is highlighted in the EPA’s first full assessment of the country’s rivers, lakes, groundwater and estuarine and coastal waters under the EU’s Water Framework Directive. The report covered the six years between 2010 and 2015.

The agency said there had been a failure to meet the planned national target of 13% improvement in water status for the six-year period and to prevent deterioration of water status at hundreds of water bodies around the country. The EPA said this cancelled out improvements in water status at a similar number of water bodies elsewhere.

The regulator cited “welcome progress” over 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 but noted a continued and unwelcome decline in the number of pristine rivers – only 21 sites achieved the highest quality rating.

Overall, 91% of groundwater bodies, 57% of rivers, 46% of lakes, 31% of estuaries and 79% of coastal waters were found to be of good quality under the directive.

On waste water pollution, the report noted the main pressure as urban wastewater discharges, but private wastewater discharges – for example, septic tanks – and diffuse urban discharges, which include losses from urban wastewater misconnections, were also significant contributors.

Currently untreated sewage is being discharged into water at over 40 locations around the country. These include 11 areas in Cork and Donegal, five locations in Clare and Galway, and four locations in Wexford, the EPA has confirmed.