EPA: Private water supplies poorly monitored, while agri emissions surge ahead

Nationwide monitoring of private water supplies “is poor” and may be putting “people’s health at risk”, an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) report has revealed.

The report, published this morning, found that one in five people in Ireland get their drinking water from private water supplies – mainly from group water schemes, or small supplies/wells operated by commercial property or business owners.

The findings highlight how thousands of homes were affected by boil water notices last year; it also claims that official monitoring of private water supplies is insufficient.

Commenting on the findings, Gerard O’Leary, director of the EPA’s Office of Environmental Enforcement said: “There were 126 private water supplies, serving over 7,000 people, on boil water notices in 2016.

“The safety and security of these supplies must be improved or people are at risk of becoming ill.

The number of supplies monitored in 2016 remained inadequate – with E. coli testing not reported for 809 private water supplies, according to the agency.

Where monitoring was carried out it shows that private water supplies – to commercial businesses, such as hotels, B&Bs and pubs, or to buildings where the public has access, like schools, creches and campsites – are at greater risk of being contaminated.

More than 60 of these supplies were found to be contaminated with human or animal waste at least once during the reporting year, the report explains.

Commenting on the issue, Darragh Page, programme manager of the EPA’s Office of Environmental Enforcement said: “Local authorities must use their enforcement powers to ensure that action is taken where water quality issues are identified in private supplies.

While there was an increase in enforcement by local authorities in 2016; only nine local authorities carried out audits during the year.

It was noted by the EPA that ‘private water supplies’ are defined as: (a) supplies which provide water to more than 50 consumers or supply more than 10,000L per day; or (b) supplies which provide water as part of a public or commercial activity (such as schools, hospitals, hotels, restaurants, B&Bs, campsites etc).

Supplies serving less than 50 consumers – including private wells serving single houses – are exempt; providing they do not supply water as part of a public or commercial activity, the agency added.

Agri emissions in the spotlight

Meanwhile, yesterday the EPA stressed the need for action as Ireland’s greenhouse gas emissions are on the rise.

According to the agency, Ireland’s greenhouse gas emissions increased by 3.5% (2.06 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent) in 2016 – with significant increases observed across all the main sectors.

This included: agriculture emissions increasing by 2.7%; transport emissions rising by 3.7%; and energy industry emissions increasing by 6.1%.

Dr. Eimear Cotter, director of the EPA’s Office of Environmental Sustainability, spoke on the issue, stating: “Achieving Ireland’s long-term decarbonisation objective can only take place with a transformation of our energy, agriculture and transport systems.

“We need to adopt a much greater sense of urgency about reducing our dependence on fossil fuels while radically improving energy efficiency,” she said.

In relation to agriculture, Ireland must optimise agricultural production to ensure long-term environmental integrity and sustainability. The growth in this sector, particularly for dairy and other cattle, points to very significant risks in relation to meeting our decarbonisation objectives.

According to the EPA, agriculture emissions increased by 2.7% in 2016, working out at 0.52 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent.

The most significant drivers, the agency says, are higher dairy cow numbers (up 6.2%) which reflects national plans to expand milk production.

Dairy cow numbers have increased by 22% in the last four years; while greenhouse gas emissions increased by 8% over that time.

EPA officials said this result shows that agricultural production has gained some efficiency over this period; however, they also acknowledge that the sector still has “some way to go before full decoupling”.