A six-year assessment of surface water quality between 2010 and 2015 by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has found “unwelcome declines in Irish water quality” in hundreds of water bodies around the country.
Water in hundreds of rivers, lakes, estuaries, groundwater bodies and along our coasts is failing to reach acceptable quality standards.
The findings have resulted in Ireland failing to meet its own national target for a 13% improvement of surface water standards.
The report concludes that overall there has been little change in water quality during the years of the study.
These failures cancelled out the improvements in quality in water bodies in different parts of the country.
The EPA said it recorded a continued and unwelcome decline in the number of rivers considered pristine, with just 21 reaching the mark between 2013 and 2015, which compares to more than 500 in the late 1980s, it said.
“The good news is that we have almost eliminated the worst of the worst polluted sites,” said Dr Matt Crowe, director of the EPA Office of Evidence and Assessment.
“The bad news is that the decline in our most pristine waters, the best of the best, has continued.”
“We now need to put the necessary measures and resources in place to arrest any further deterioration of water status and to make necessary improvements.”
“Decisions about what to do and who should do it and pay for it need to be based on scientific evidence and requires constructive engagement and collaboration across a wide range of stakeholders.”
“By doing this, the right action can be taken in the right place by the right people and organisations.”
A more positive note, there’s a continued reduction in the level of seriously polluted waters with just six rivers designated as having bad water quality. By comparison, 19 had the worst possible standards from 2007 to 2009.
Overall 91% of groundwater bodies, 57% of rivers, 46% of lakes, 31% of estuaries and 79% of coastal waters were found to have good or high quality water.
The EPA said a number of factors can influence water quality, but the main causes of pollution are nutrient losses from agriculture and domestic wastewater discharges, which can cause excessive growth of water based plants.
On the agricultural side, the problem comes from nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorous as well as sediment running off the land and from farmyards into streams and rivers.
When it comes to domestic wastewater, the EPA said the problem lies with urban wastewater discharges, private wastewater discharges including septic tanks and a range of other sources including urban waste water misconnections.
Other pollution sources include forestry and extractive industry. The study does not include drinking water standards.
To read the full EPA report, Water Quality in Ireland 2010-2015, see here.