Integrated Catchment Management

Effective management of water requires us to look at the pressures on our water resources at an appropriate scale - large enough that we can take account of all the relevant information, but small enough to ensure that people who live in the area can easily relate to their catchment. Experience around the world and in Ireland has shown that an integrated approach to managing individual catchments of an appropriate scale is necessary to protect and improve water resources. A catchment is simply defined as an area contributing water to a river and its tributaries, with all the water ultimately running off to a single outlet.

3D Catchment with clouds and arrows

Figure 1: 3D depiction of a catchment showing the water cycle

Integrated catchment management—what does it involve?

  • Gathering the best available information to understand the catchment - where the water comes from, how it flows through the landscape both overground and underground, and what activities in the catchment may be causing pollution.
  • Looking at all the uses of water - drinking, agricultural, industrial and recreational, and also the vital ecosystems that depend on water to survive.
  • Engaging local communities and involving them in decision making and management of their catchment.
  • Adopting appropriate measures to ensure that activities that represent a significant threat to water resources are effectively managed.
  • Applying the scientific and local knowledge of how the catchment operates to protect and improve water, providing a healthy, resilient, productive and valued resource that supports vibrant communities.

An Integrated Catchment Management approach is increasingly seen internationally as essential to successful water management. To achieve the Water Framework Directive objectives and the sustainable use of our water and land resources it needs to be adapted to Irish conditions.

Steps in the ICM Process

Figure 2: Steps in the ICM Process

Working together - the EPA's role in Integrated Catchment Management

The EPA has established a Catchment Science and Mangement unit. This Unit will work together with local authorities, other public authorities, government agencies, and local communities in establishing effective integrated catchment management in Ireland. The main purpose of the Unit is to protect and improve water resources, while ensuring that any water body remains productive for the communities that depend on it.

A key focus of our work will be integrating existing knowledge from a range of disciplines - including hydrology, hydrogeology, ecology and hydrochemistry - with data on the pressures that are impacting on water bodies in our catchments from sources such as urban waste water treatment, septic tanks, farming, forestry and landfills. Integration of this data will provide us with an understanding of how pressures and geology are linked, enabling us to develop effective plans and measures to improve water resources that are both economically and environmentally sound. To do this, we will be undertaking WFD Characterisation, delivering a template River Basin Management Plan, and engaging with stakeholders.

The Water Framework Directive Application

The WFD Application provides a single point of access to catchment data which will be useful for a range of catchment science and management purposes, not just those that are specific to the WFD.The Application is available to EPA staff and EPA-funded researchers, as well as staff in other public agencies.

National Catchment Management Network

A Catchment Management Network has been established to act as a communication platform for all public authorities, government bodies and organisations that are involved in managing Ireland’s water resources. The Network will help us to share knowledge, exchange data, identify where capacity building is required and, most importantly, allow us to learn from one another. We will also work closely with regional WFD offices to encourage community participation to help manage our catchments.

Those in public bodies can access further information on the EPA's NIECE Working Group page:


Learn more about Integrated Catchment Management

The EPA has uploaded 30 presentations to SlideShare about Integrated Catchment Management. One of these on developing a vison for your ICM project is below:


Integrated Catchment Management - Vision from Environmental Protection Agency - Ireland