Current Irish Water plans to address raw sewage from 35 towns and villages flowing into the environment daily have been described as a serious concern for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

It is estimated that 33 of these areas are unlikely to receive treatment until after 2021. Treatment at 19 of Ireland’s 172 large towns and cities, including Dublin and Cork, failed to meet standards set to prevent pollution.

The EPA report on urban waste water treatment in 2019 warns that Irish Water's repeated revision of its plans to upgrade treatment systems around the country is prolonging risks to the environment and public health.

Undermining confidence

Director of the EPA’s office of environmental enforcement Dr Tom Ryan said: “Two years ago, Irish Water advised it would provide necessary treatment infrastructure by the end of 2021 for 30 of the 35 areas discharging raw sewage.

“It has now revised this down to just two areas. The growing uncertainty in planning and delivery of these critical projects is undermining confidence in the capacity to reduce risks to public health and the environment in a timely manner.”

The Ringsend treatment plant in Co Dublin produces almost half of Ireland’s waste water and does not have the capacity to effectively treat all the sewage it receives.

Irish Water is upgrading the plant and advises it will be completed by 2025.

The EPA identifies the following as priorities:

  • 48 areas where waste water is the main significant threat to inland and coastal waters at risk of pollution.
  • 13 areas in Cork, Kerry and Laois where improvements are needed to protect globally endangered freshwater pearl mussels.
  • Seven large urban areas where waste water collection systems were ruled inadequate by the European Court of Justice.
  • Three beaches where waste water contributed to poor-quality bathing waters.
  • Statutory issues

    Irish Water said significant progress has been made to date with the delivery of critical wastewater projects around the country in addition to a portfolio of key projects at construction and planning phases.

    These include:

  • €308m investment in wastewater in 2019.
  • 50% reduction since 2014 in the amount of untreated and inadequately treated wastewater.
  • Seven areas of the country brought into full compliance with EU standards.
  • Two locations where we have stopped the discharge of raw sewage.
  • Managing director of Irish Water Niall Gleeson said: “Since 2014 we have made considerable progress in removing 130 areas from the priority area list and have plans for the majority of the remaining 113 areas.

    “Progress across a portfolio of projects has been slower than anticipated as we deal with an unprecedented level of statutory and planning issues.

    “Irish Water has worked extensively to ensure operation of new wastewater infrastructure does not negatively impact on the community or wider environment. This is an exhaustive process that requires detailed consultation and environmental research.”

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