Ireland’s second-cycle River Basin Management Plan 2018-2021 was published in April 2018. The Plan represents an integrated national approach to river basin planning based on a new three-tier governance structure and the formation of a single national River Basin District.
Some of the key measures set out in the Plan include:
Establishment of the Local Authority Waters Programme (LAWPRO) to carry out localised catchment assessments and promote the implementation of mitigation measures to improve water quality at a local level.
Setting up the Agricultural Sustainability Support and Advisory Programme (ASSAP). ASSAP will provide water quality advice to the farming community.
Establishment of the Blue Dot Catchments Programme to ensure the protection of our remaining high status waters.
Investment by Irish Water of €1.7 billion in wastewater projects, programmes and asset maintenance.
Implementing the integrated catchment-management approach
Underpinning the new water governance arrangements for managing water is the integrated catchment management approach. It approaches sustainable resource management from a catchment perspective, in contrast to a piecemeal approach that artificially separates land management from water management. It is being led by the Local Authorities Water Programme (LAWPRO) who are undertaking local catchment assessments in areas which have been prioritised for action in the RBMP. Where an action to improve water quality is identified, LAWPRO refer it to the relevant implementing body for follow up. In total, 190 Priority Areas for Action (PAAs) have been identified for targeted action.
The objective set out in the RBMP is to deliver water quality improvements in 726 water bodies located within the 190 Areas for Action, and for 152 of these to have improved sufficiently so they achieve good or high ecological status. The RBMP envisages that water bodies outside Areas for Action will benefit from existing and newly introduced measures such as the adoption of good agricultural practices and the provision of new and improved municipal waste water treatment infrastructure.
Agriculture measures to improve water quality
Agriculture as a landuse covers 67.6% of the land area of Ireland and is the most common significant pressure in water bodies that are failing to meet their environmental objectives.
Ireland's Nitrates Action Programme is designed to prevent pollution of surface waters and groundwater from agricultural sources and to protect and improve water quality. The measures within the Programme, which relate to livestock stocking densities, periods when land spreading of livestock manure is prohibited and set levels for the storage of livestock manure, are given legal effect by the Good Agricultural Practice for Protection of Waters Regulations.
When LAWPRO identify a water quality issue related to agriculture they notify ASSAP who in turn work with local farmers to identify where improvements in water quality can be made. This can involve a whole farm assessment which focuses on the significant issue identified by LAWPRO. As such, LAWPRO and ASSAP teams are facilitating a far more targeted approach in terms of delivering the right measure in the right place to improve water quality.
Agri-environment schemes such as GLAS and other initiatives such as the Dairy Sustainability Initiative will also help to reduce the loss of nutrients by increasing knowledge exchange around field-based nutrient management and the management of farmyard point sources. Finally, structural changes to the Common Agricultural Policy and its greater emphasis on environmental sustainability is likely to lead to more sustainable farming practices.
Measures to address discharges from urban waste water treatment plants
The objective of waste water treatment is to collect the waste water generated within our communities, remove the polluting material, and then release the treated water safely back into the environment. Without such treatment, the waste water we produce would pollute our waters and create a health risk. Irish Water is the national water utility responsible for the collection, treatment and discharge of urban waste water.
Over the period 2017–2021, Irish Water committed to invest approximately €1.7 billion in wastewater projects, programmes and asset maintenance. This was to include investment in 255 wastewater treatment projects (to be completed by the year 2025), improvements in collection systems in 41 urban areas, and further investment and upgrades to existing plants.
As of mid-2020, Irish Water had yet to identify and schedule improvements required to address 23 urban areas where waste water is the sole significant pressure. Repeated delays in completing essential work to eliminate discharges of raw sewage mean that raw sewage will continue to be released into the environment from 33 towns and villages after 2022.
Irish Water must address the delays in providing infrastructure to eliminate the discharge of raw sewage. The Utility must also complete the improvements needed to ensure waste water does not prevent receiving waters from meeting their environmental objectives.
EPA Research Programme
EPA Research 2030 is a 10-year high-level research programming framework under which funding will be allocated under four interconnected research hubs. From 2021, water-related research will be funded principally under the EPA Research 2030 Research Hubs on:
Delivering a Safer Environment - A clean, vibrant and safe environment is a prerequisite for good health and wellbeing. Environmental degradation, pollution, as well as known and emerging substances of concern threaten our health and that of our supporting ecosystems. Research under this hub will contribute to understanding the risks and benefits, and to identifying appropriate policy and behavioural responses;
Protecting and Restoring our Natural Environment - Our natural environment provides us with clean air and water, food and the raw materials to sustain us and our economy. Research is required to inform and support a cross-sectoral approach to managing our natural environment and for the development of policies relating to the regulation of emissions and activities, and the protection of our water, land and ecosystems.
Facilitating a Green and Circular Economy - Environmental and sustainability challenges are inextricably linked to economic activities and lifestyles. Research under this hub will contribute to the mainstreaming of sustainable management of natural resources and waste, unlocking the potential of the circular and bio-economies, and boosting competitiveness, through resource efficiency and deployment of innovative technologies and solutions.
The EPA is a member of the Water Joint Programming Initiative (Member States-driven initiative which aims to enhance collaboration between national research programmes in Europe to address key societal challenges in a more efficient and effective manner). It is dedicated to tackling the ambitious challenge of achieving sustainable water systems for a sustainable economy in Europe and abroad. This will be realised through a multi-disciplinary approach, which includes economic, ecological, societal and technological considerations.
EPA-funded Research Projects
Since 2014, the EPA funded more than 120 research projects (as of May 2021) relevant to water, corresponding to a commitment of about €13.5 million.
Some of the ongoing research funded by the EPA investigates:
Integrated catchment management;
Barriers on freshwater hydromorphology and connectivity;