There was a 39% drop in total local authority water quality inspections on Irish farms in 2020 when compared with 2019 figures, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
A total of 2,730 inspections took place last year, down 1,720 on the 4,450 completed in 2019.
Local authorities inspect farms under the good agricultural practice (GAP) for the protection of waters regulations. The regulation sets out requirements to protect waters from pollution by agricultural activities.
The rate of GAP inspections fell significantly in 2020 (930) from the 2,460 in 2019.
Non-routine inspections after a farm incident or complaint fell from 700 to 570 and other farm water quality inspections decreased from 1,420 to 1,100.
The Department of Agriculture traditionally supports local authorities in undertaking GAP inspections and the EPA commented that the drop in inspections was “partly due” to the Department being unable to carry out this role to the same extent during COVID-19.
The EPA made the comments in its report on local authority environmental enforcement activities for 2020.
Considering the drop in inspections, the EPA said greater water quality enforcement on Irish farms and follow-through on non-compliance is needed to protect water quality.
However, farm water inspections were not alone in seeing reduced activity in 2020.
Overall, almost 14,000 fewer water quality inspections took place in 2020 (32,040) when compared with 2019 figures (46,000), a decrease of 13%.
The EPA says the lag in these inspections is due to having less resources assigned and a lack of enforcement co-ordination services.
Meanwhile, overall local authority inspection numbers remained high in 2020, with 180,000 litter, waste, air and noise inspections undertaken last year despite the impact of COVID-19.
On farm water quality inspections, the EPA said there was “little evidence of follow-up enforcement actions”.
“It is unclear if action was taken to address non-compliances that were detected by local authorities.”
However, the agency reported positive work by some local authorities, including proactive engagement with farmers and site selection using risk-based catchment assessments.
The EPA also noted that some follow-up actions were taken when farm non-compliances were identified. but said this must be more frequent.
The EPA reports that there were 100 inspections conducted in relation to the storage and disposal of farm plastics in 2020.
Farm plastics are included as principles for responsible investment (PRIs) along with batteries, packaging and tyres.
Inspection activity in relation to PRIs was reduced in 2020, with local authorities citing COVID-19 restrictions.
However, the EPA said routine regulatory activity in this area is “expected to increase in the coming years”.