Irish water quality deteriorating across the board, EPA warns

Published by Shamim Malekmian on

December 10th, 2019

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has warned that the overall quality of Ireland’s lakes, rivers and estuaries is deteriorating, reversing all gains achieved in recent years.

The EPA’s latest Water Quality report describes the quality of water in half of our river resources as “unsatisfactory”, while the number of pristine river sites has experienced a “dramatic loss”.

The report’s findings are based on the EPA’s examination of the ecological health of over 2,700 surface water bodies and over 500 groundwater bodies over a five year period (2013 to 2018).

According to the new findings, only 53 per cent of all surface bodies were found to have satisfactory ecological health.

Ireland’s number of pristine water resources has now dropped to 20, reaching a record-low level from around 500 site in the 1980s.

Nitrogen and phosphorus runoff from agricultural lands and urban wastewater discharges are identified in the report as the primary culprits for deterioration.

Such pollution, the EPA said “can cause excessive plant growth and increase in the likelihood of harmful algal bloom”. A third of rivers and lakes and a quarter of estuaries are failing to meet their nutrient-based ecological quality standards.

Nitrogen leakage to water bodies from agricultural land is a significant issue in the south and southeast of the country, the report states, with the EPA recommending meaningful nitrogen reduction measures to be carried out urgently.

Phosphorus pollution due to wastewater discharge has been identified as a particular problem in parts of the northwest, northeast, east coast, southeast and south of the Shannon Estuary.

The number of fish kills due to water pollution and “depressed oxygen concentration” increased to 40 in 2018 after reaching a historic low of 14 in 2017.

The number of “seriously polluted” river water bodies has also increased to nine from its previous figure of six in the last study period between 2010 and 2015.

Cattle Photo: Matthias Zomer/ Pexels

According to Dr Matt Crowe, the director of the EPA’s assessment department, Ireland is violating its commitments to clean polluted water bodies and maintain pristine water resources.

“Positive trends reported previously by the EPA have reversed. Not only are we failing to improve overall water quality, we are also failing to prevent further deterioration of our rivers,” Mr Crowe warned.

The Minister for Housing, Eoghan Murphy TD today acknowledged the significance of the report’s findings, urging all sectors to engage in “this increasingly urgent situation and reduce their impact on water quality”.

Mr Murphy said that the State is committed to taking meaningful steps for alleviating the adverse impact of agriculture and urban wastewater industries on Irish river water resources.

“Our wastewater system requires substantial and sustained investment. Firstly, just to bring the systems up to the expected standards of a modern service; then also to provide for population growth and, finally, to build resilience in the face of climate change,” he added.

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Shamim Malekmian

Shamim is a Senior Reporter at The Green News and a contributing writer to the Irish Examiner, Cork Evening Echo and the Dublin Inquirer.