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EPA – “Water Quality Going In Wrong Direction.”

It will come as no surprise to Tipperary environmentalists that the EPA has found that water quality of Irish waters has deteriorated between 2015 and 2017.

The EPA, on November 30th 2018 last, released details of the Water Quality for 2017: “An Indicators Report for Ireland”.  The 16 indicators in the report provide information on the quality of Ireland’s rivers, lakes, canals, estuaries, coastal waters, beaches and ground-waters. The report showed a net overall decline of 3% (72 water bodies) in the water quality in Irish rivers between 2015 and 2017. Some 197 river water bodies have improved in quality, but 269 water bodies have deteriorated; compared with the last full assessment in 2013-2015.

The long-term loss of high-quality river sites is continuing with a further 0.6% decline since 2015.
Most pollution is caused by too much nitrogen and phosphorus entering our waters. Despite a long-term reduction, recent data clearly indicates that levels of nitrogen and phosphorus are beginning to rise again and unless addressed, this is likely to lead to a further decline in water quality into the future.

Significant pressures:
Activities, such as waste-water discharges, industrial discharges or agriculture, that are identified as being significant contributors to surface water or groundwater bodies failing to meet their Water Framework Directive (WFD) objectives. Nutrient losses from agriculture and waste-water discharges from towns and businesses together with physical habitat issues 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 waste-water, the main pressure is from urban waste-water discharges (See Video hereunder) and diffuse urban discharges, (which include faulty connections leading to sewage effluent being discharged to surface water drainage systems).

Local Authorities Waters Programme: The Local Authorities Waters Programme is a local authority shared service managed by Kilkenny and Tipperary County Councils, on behalf of all local authorities.

It has recently commenced local assessments of the causes of water quality issues within the 190 areas set out in the River Basin Management Programme via the work of its catchment assessment team. Same coordinate with the water quality work of Local Authorities through agreed regional structures, thereby providing a collaborative approach to river catchment management. It also seeks to engage local communities and promote public participation in the management of our water environment via the work of a team of water community officers.

Positive Changes:
Serious pollution continues to decrease. Only two river water bodies were seriously polluted in the latest reporting period compared to five in 2013-2015.  Historically there were 91 seriously polluted water bodies in the late 1980s.

Fish kills were at an all-time low with only 14 reported in 2017 compared to 31 in 2016.

Commenting on the report, Dr Matt Crowe, Director of the EPA’s Office of Evidence and Assessment stated:  “Clean, healthy water is essential to our health and wellbeing. The signals in this report are not good and tell us that water quality is still getting worse in some areas despite improvements in others. This is simply unacceptable. We must do more to halt deterioration in water quality so that we protect this most precious public resource.
“Substantial additional resources have recently been put in place by the State with the creation of the Local Authority Waters Programme and the Agricultural Sustainability Support and Advice Programme. These programmes will support action at local level to address the issues causing water pollution. We now need to start seeing visible improvements in water quality through the work of these new programmes. The EPA will continue to play its part in this by providing the science and evidence to support action on the ground and will also continue to report regularly on progress.”

Addressing the main findings of the assessment, Andy Fanning, Programme Manager, EPA Office of Evidence and Assessment stated:  “The report highlights that the loss of our best quality waters is continuing. It is also clear that there is a general decline in river water quality. Worryingly, this report also shows a rise in nutrient inputs to our seas from our rivers.
“Most pollution is caused by too much nitrogen and phosphorus entering waters. These excess nutrients come from human activities, predominantly our farms and urban areas. The increases are an early warning that we need to address the sources and the pathways by which these nutrients make their way into our rivers and lakes. The success in addressing serious pollution and the reduction in fish kills shows that we can make positive changes when we put our minds to it.”

It is now intended to publish annual indicators reports that will complement and support the EPA’s Water Quality in Ireland reports, produced every three years.

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