There is an overemphasis on agriculture when it comes to Ireland’s water quality, according to Thomas Cooney, the IFA’s environment chair.

Speaking on RTÉ radio on Friday morning, he said that agriculture has made massive improvements in the last 20 years.

“The amount of seriously polluted rivers has declined in that time as well. We are doing more and will continue to do more, but the Government needs to put more resources in to let that happen.”

Commenting on the Environmental Protection Agency’s National Assessment of Water Quality in Ireland report which was released this week, he said that the 43 locations where waste water is being discharged need to be dealt with.

Agriculture’s role

On the role of agriculture, Cooney said that there are a number of things that can be done and called for a ring-fenced budget put in place to deliver the following:

  • A progressive approach to the current review of the nitrates regulations.
  • Greater focus by State agencies on working with farming and the wider rural community to address water quality challenges, rather than mainly focusing on imposing penalties and fines.
  • Increased support for locally led initiatives, such as smart farming, which demonstrates clear and tangible benefits to the environment from better resource management.
  • The re-opening of voluntary schemes such as GLAS, which provide targeted supports for farmers to improve water quality and future proof for environmental challenges.
  • “Sustainable intensification is possible. We’ve showed that; we’ve reduced cattle numbers by 1m and we are becoming more efficient.”

    Citing the Green Low-carbon Agri-environment Scheme (GLAS), Cooney highlighted that 50% of the measures in the scheme are aimed at protecting waters and reducing inputs on lands.

    EPA report

    Earlier this week, a report from the EPA found that improvements to Ireland's surface water quality have not been achieved.

    It found that nationally, 91% of groundwater bodies, 57% of rivers, 46% of lakes, 31% of transitional (estuarine) waters and 79% of coastal waters are achieving either good or high status under the Water Framework Directive (WFD).

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