River basin plan targets water quality improvements in dairy sector

The state and the dairy industry are set to partner on a new Agricultural Sustainability Support and Advisory Programme aimed at driving towards better farming practice and water quality, it has been revealed.

The new initiative has been announced as part of the River Basin Management Plan (RBMP) for Ireland 2018-2021, launched by Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government Eoghan Murphy this afternoon.

The plan outlines the measures the state and other sectors will take to improve water quality in Ireland’s groundwater, rivers, lakes, estuarine and coastal waters over the next four years.

The Government aims to protect and improve water quality in 726 of Ireland’s 4,829 water bodies over the next four years. The plan is in fulfillment of requirements under the Water Framework Directive (WFD).

Speaking after the launch Minister Murphy said: “Today is a seminal day for water quality in Ireland. Environmental water quality is vital to clean water sources, clean food production, good quality of life and protecting public health and the environment.

“This plan represents the most coordinated and ambitious road-map for improving water quality that Ireland has ever produced. All involved in influencing and delivering it should be proud today,” he said.

The plan’s main commitments include:
  • Planned investment by Irish Water of approximately €1.7 billion in waste water infrastructure and projects in 255 urban areas by the end of 2021 – protecting both the environment and public health;
  • Deployment of 43 specialist local authority investigative assessment personnel, who will carry out scientific assessments of water bodies and drive the implementation of measures at a local level;
  • A new Agricultural Sustainability Support and Advisory Programme – a partnership between the state and the dairy industry – consisting of 30 sustainability advisors.

It is understood that the advisors will engage collaboratively with farmers to promote agricultural best practice across the dairy sector in 190 targeted ‘areas for action’.

The programme will provide advice and support to farmers, facilitating knowledge transfer and encouraging behavioural change as the cornerstone of the drive towards better farming practice and water quality.

The initiative will complement agri-environment measures under the Rural Development Programme, the Nitrates Action Programme and the National Dairy Sustainability Forum.

These initiatives are also expected to help enhance Ireland’s reputation as “a global leader” in high-quality food production.

Other commitments also include:
  • A ‘Blue Dot Catchments Programme’ – a programme to create awareness, promote best practice and focus efforts and resources to protect Ireland’s highest quality waters;
  • Greater focus on protecting drinking water sources in over 700 public and private drinking water supplies and €73 million per year in investment by Irish Water to reduce leakage, saving 61 million m³ of water each year. (It is anticipated that this has the effect of reducing the leakage rate of drinking water produced from 45% to 38%);
  • Extension of the local authority led Domestic Waste Water Treatment Systems grant scheme – the revised scheme will assist with the cost of septic tank remediation in ‘high status’ water areas and in areas identified for priority action.
  • A Community Water Development Fund will also be established to support community initiatives to improve water quality. The fund will be administered by the newly-established Local Authority Waters and Communities Office (LAWCO).

On the expected outcomes arising from the plan, Minister Murphy said implementation will result in social, environmental and economic benefits.

By implementing this plan, communities will benefit from improved waste water treatment, stronger protection of drinking water sources and cleaner waters for recreation.

“Environmentally, water quality will improve and be protected in 726 water bodies, with full recovery in water quality status class expected in 152 water bodies.

Rural benefits

“Economically, water-intensive sectors such as the agri-food, tourism and hospitality sectors – which collectively sustain approximately 400,000 jobs, many in rural Ireland – will also benefit from greater protection of water supply sources and cleaner natural waters,” he said.

Concluding, the minister said the plan is underpinned by strong implementation structures and a commitment to meaningful community and civic participation.

Today we have a plan. Tomorrow we will continue to make the plan’s vision a reality and protect this most precious natural resource for current and future generations.