Proposed Bill will “fail to regulate” the majority of water abstractions

Published by Kayle Crosson on

20 October 2020 

The proposed bill on water abstraction set to go before pre-legislative scrutiny this week will fail to regulate the majority of instances, according to the Sustainable Water Network (SWAN). 

Abstraction is the removal of water from surface water, such as rivers, lakes, canals and reservoirs, or from groundwater, either permanently or temporarily, and transported to wherever it will be used. 

The Bill has set regulation thresholds to such a high level that, “the substantial majority of abstractions will remain unregistered and unmonitored, potentially having serious implications for the local environment and future rural water supply”, according to SWAN. 

The Bill will also result in potential breaches of key EU environmental directives, such as the Habitats Directive and the Environmental Impact Assessment Directive. 

“The proposed Bill is very much light touch regulation and is a long way off providing meaningful monitoring or controls of the extraction of our most precious resource,” SWAN coordinator Sinéad O’Brien said. 

Out of at least 21 water bottling plants in the country, none abstract enough water to pass the proposed threshold for licencing, according to SWAN, and only five abstract enough water to even require registration. 

The network is calling on the legislation to be revised to align with regulations in Northern Ireland and to prioritise protection of the environment and future water supply. 

“We have a great example of good regulation right across the border”, according to SWAN Director Dr Elaine McGoff. 

The Bill falls “way short” of regulations up north and allows for the potential abstraction of one-hundred times more water in the Republic without requiring a licence, Dr. McGoff said. 

“We’re on the same land mass, the same pressures and environmental conditions apply on both sides of the border, it doesn’t make sense that such different standards would apply,” she added. 

The Bill had its first round of pre-legislative scrutiny today before the Joint Committee on Housing, Local Governments and Heritage this morning. 

The danger of over-abstraction 

If water is over-abstracted, it can lower downstream water volumes, alter flow dynamics and impact water quality. 

It can downgrade the overall health of a water body, which is a subsequent breach in the Water Framework Directive from the European Union. 

Water quality is continuing to deteriorate in Ireland according to the latest EPA report, which described the quality of water in half of our river resources as “unsatisfactory” while the number of pristine river sites has experienced a “dramatic loss”. 

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