EPA calls for the elimination of raw sewage entering the environment and improvement in the management of wastewater plants

Date released: Mar 13 2014, 6:30 AM

  • 94% of Ireland’s urban waste water now gets secondary treatment; this is three times more than a decade ago. At 42 urban areas though, sewage is discharged untreated, putting our rivers and bathing waters at risk of pollution.
  • The causes of one in three sewage plant incidents reported to the EPA can be attributed to inadequate management practices by operators.
  • 69% of secondary treatment plants met main effluent standards, a 5% improvement on the previous year. 
  • 44 of the 170 large urban areas did not comply with EU quality standards.
  • A greater level of investment in infrastructure is necessary to protect our rivers and beaches, and the economic activities that depend on clean water.

Data in the EPA Urban Waste Water Report, released today, shows that significant improvement in the infrastructure and management of waste water from Ireland’s towns and villages is needed.  Commenting on the report Mr Gerard O’Leary, Director of EPA’s Office of Environmental Enforcement said,

“Ireland has made progress in the last decade in treating wastewater by investing in waste water infrastructure. Despite this investment, sewage from 42 towns and villages discharges untreated into our rivers and coastal waters, putting the environment and people’s health under threat. This practice needs to be eliminated.”

The EPA report found that:

On Infrastructure

  • Seven larger urban areas did not comply with the 1991 European Union Directive requirement to provide secondary treatment for waste water (secondary treatment is the minimum treatment level that is required for these areas).  In the case of Ringaskiddy, Killybegs and Arklow such treatment is now thirteen years overdue.
  • Forty two areas had no waste water treatment plants and are discharging raw sewage.

On Plant Performance

  • 94% of urban waste water now receives secondary treatment, three times as much as a decade ago.
  • 69% of the 443 plants with secondary treatment achieved the minimum EU standards.
  • 26% (44 plants) of the 170 large urban areas did not achieve the mandatory European Union Directive effluent standards set for such areas. The standards are for the key water quality indicator parameters of biochemical oxygen demand, chemical oxygen demand and nutrient removal.
  • Upon investigation, the cause of most environmental incidents reported to the EPA by the local authorities was attributed to issues surrounding the operation and management of waste water treatment plants, or a lack of treatment capacity. 

Mr David Flynn, Programme Manager for the EPA’s Office of Environmental Enforcement, said,

“The causes of one in three sewage plant incidents reported to the EPA can be attributed to inadequate management practices by operators.  Solving these management issues is not just about investment and building new plants – it requires better management of the technology in place.  Consolidation of water service management in Irish Water now presents an opportunity to deliver consistency and better practice in the operation of these strategic assets.”

The report, entitled Focus on Urban Waste Water Treatment in 2012 contains summary reports for all local authority areas.  It is available on the EPA web site.

Notes to Editor:

7 larger urban areas where secondary treatment required by the 1991 European Union Directive on treatment of urban waste water is not in place: 

Urban area

Water services authority estimated completion date

Killybegs 2015
Clifden Mid-2015
Youghal End 2015
Cobh Late 2016
Passage West/Monkstown Late 2016
Ringaskiddy/Crosshaven/Carrigaline Late 2016
Arklow 2016


42 Urban Areas with no treatment or preliminary treatment only.

Water services authorityUrban Area

6 larger urban areas, above the Directive thresholds1 , with no treatment or

preliminary treatment only at the end of 2012. 

Cork County Council Cobh
Cork County Council Passage West/Monkstown
Cork County Council Ringaskiddy/Crosshaven/Carrigaline
Cork County Council Youghal
Donegal County Council Killybegs
Wicklow County Council Arklow

28 towns and villages, (>500 population equivalent) up to the Directive

thresholds, with no treatment or prelimary treatment only in 2012

Clare County Council Ballyvaughan
Clare County Council Clarecastle
Clare County Council Kilkee
Clare County Council Kilrush
Clare County Council Liscannor
Cork County Council Ballycotton
Cork County Council Castletownbere
Cork County Council Castletownshend
Cork County Council Ringaskiddy Village
Cork County Council Timoleague
Cork County Council Whitegate/Aghada
Donegal County Council Bundoran
Donegal County Council Falcarragh
Donegal County Council Kilcar
Donegal County Council   Moville
 Donegal County Council  Ramelton
 Donegal County Council  St Johnston
 Fingal County Council  Rush
 Galway County Council  Ahascragh
Galway County Council Carraroe
Galway County Council Kinvara
Galway County Council Spiddal
Mayo County Council Belmullet
Mayo County Council Killala
Waterford County Council Ardmore
Waterford County Council Dunmore East
Wexford County Council Duncannon
Wexford County Council Kilmore Quay

8 towns and villages (>500 population equivalent) where waste water

is discharged with no treatment2

Cork County Council Inchigeelagh3
Cork County Council Kilmacsimon4
Donegal County Council Burtonport5
Donegal County Council Kerrykeel4
Galway County Council Roundstone
Louth County Council Omeath
Wexford County Council Arthurstown
Wexford County Council Ballyhack3

 2,000 population equivalent (p.e.) for discharges to freshwater and estuaries, 10,000 p.e. for coastal discharges.

2 As reported by the water services authority in application for a certificate of authorisation.

3 A portion of the waste water at this area receives primary treatment.

4 A portion of the waste water at this area received secondary treatment.

5 A portion of the waste water at this area receives primary treatment and a portion receives secondary treatment.

There is also an untreated secondary discharge of approximately 120 population equivalent from the Ringsend agglomeration (D0034-01) at Howth.

Appendix 5.  44 larger areas that did not comply with all of the mandatory effluent quality and sampling standards in 2012.

Local Authority areaUrban area
Cavan Cavan
Cavan Cootehill
Clare Shannon Town
Cork Carrigtohill
Cork Cobh
Cork Crosshaven/Carrigaline/Ringaskiddy
Cork Dunmanway
Cork Passage West/Monkstown
Cork Rathcormac
Cork Youghal
Cork City Cork City
Donegal Ballybofey/Stranorlar
Donegal Killybegs
Donegal Letterkenny
Dublin City & others Greater Dublin area
Fingal Portrane/Donabate
Fingal LuskNote1
Galway Clifden
Galway Gort
Kerry Tralee
Kildare Athy
Kildare Kildare Town
Kilkenny Callan
Kilkenny Kilkenny
Kilkenny Thomastown
Laois Abbeyleix
Laois Mountmellick
Laois Mountrath
Laois Portarlington
Laois Rathdowney
Limerick Kilmallock
Louth Dundalk
Mayo Crossmolina
Mayo Westport
Meath Enfield
Meath Navan
Meath Stamullen
Monaghan Clones
North Tipperary Roscrea
Roscommon Monksland
Sligo Tubbercurry
Wexford Courtown/Gorey
Wicklow Arklow
Wicklow BrayNote1

Note 1: The discharges from Lusk and Bray subsequently ceased as these areas were connected to the WWTPs at Portrane and Shanganagh respectively.

Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive: The 1991 Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive has requirements for sewerage systems and waste water collection systems to be provided and sets deadlines for the provision of sewage treatment. The main requirements of the Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive are as follows:

  • Scheduled provision of waste water collecting systems and treatment plants based on the size of the agglomeration and the type of water body to which the waste water is discharged (freshwater, estuarine or coastal, sensitive or non-sensitive).
  • Monitoring by operators (including frequency of monitoring) of discharges from waste water treatment plants.

In Ireland the Urban Waste Water Treatment Regulations, 2001 (S.I. No.254 of 2001), as  amended by S.I. No 440 of 2004 and S.I. No. 48 of 2010, give effect to the Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive (91/271/EEC).

Biochemical oxygen demand, chemical oxygen demand and suspended solids are the three water quality indicator parameters most commonly used to assess the effectiveness of a waste water treatment plant in removing organic contaminants from waste water.

The Waste water Discharge (Authorisation) Regulations 2007 introduced a licensing system for urban waste water discharges to drive improvements in water quality in Ireland. The EPA received applications for waste water discharge licences for 529 urban areas and applications for certificates of authorisation for 542 areas and has issued 284 licences and 512 certificates of authorisation6.

Roles and Responsibilities:

This report provides an overview of urban waste water treatment in Ireland during 2012, based on EPA licensing and regulation of waste water discharge authorisations and information from water services authorities. It outlines the performance of waste water treatment plants across the country before Irish Water, the new national water utility established under the Water Services Act 2013, takes over responsibility for these assets from the 34 water services authorities. The transfer of responsibilities commences in January 2014.

The Urban Waste Water Treatment Regulations 2001-2010 and the 1991 Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive (the Directive) set requirements on the provision of urban waste water collection systems and treatment plants provide for the monitoring of waste water discharges and specify limits for certain parameters in the discharges.  Irish Water will be responsible for ensuring compliance with this legislation as well as compliance with the site specific conditions set in EPA waste water authorisations. The EPA will be the environmental regulator for this new semi-state company.

Improving urban waste water management in Ireland:

Urban waste water is one of the principal causes of pollution of our water resources.  Considerable investment has been made in the provision of waste water infrastructure throughout the country, as outlined in the Reform of the Water Sector in Ireland Position Paper.  However, further investment in infrastructure is necessary to meet European Union requirements such as the Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive and the Water Framework Directive and to ensure compliance with EPA waste water discharge authorisations.  This investment will have many benefits for Ireland, as clean water is a valuable resource and is important to public health, the tourism industry, food production and other industrial sectors.

In some cases, where the required infrastructure is in place, operational and maintenance issues have prevented waste water from being consistently treated to the required standards.  Prioritising the operation and maintenance of treatment plants and collection networks plays an important role in optimising the performance of waste water works in order to protect receiving water and ensure that Ireland meets its obligations under the 1991 Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive and the Water Framework Directive. 


6 As at 1st December 2013.