EPA says greater focus needed on protecting water environments

The EPA has released its latest National Assessment of Water Quality in Ireland report. The 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 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.

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.

The assessment shows that elevated levels of nutrients (phosphorus and nitrogen) in waters, causing excessive growth of plants, continues to be the most widespread water quality problem in Ireland. Nutrient losses from agriculture and domestic wastewater discharges are the primary reasons why the water quality objectives of the Water Framework Directive are not being met. In relation to agriculture, the pressures relate to diffuse nutrient run-off, sediment from land and point sources associated with farmyards. For wastewater, the main pressure is from urban wastewater discharges, but private wastewater discharges - for example, septic tanks - and diffuse urban discharges, which include losses from urban wastewater misconnections, are also significant contributors.

The report is available for download at: http://www.epa.ie/pubs/reports/water/waterqua/Water%20Quality%20in%20Ireland%202010-2015.pdf

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