28 Irish urban areas missing waste-water treatment targets from 2005

Ireland is not investing quickly enough to provide the infrastructure needed to treat waste water, according to a new EPA report – with mandatory standards still being missed 13 years after the deadline for complying.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) report on Urban Waste Water Treatment in 2017 was released today (Tuesday, October 23).

Though acknowledging that there have been improvements, the document notes that deficiencies exist in many treatment plants and public sewers, due to a legacy of under-investment, and waste water is still entering the environment without receiving sufficient treatment.

Environmental priorities

In the short-term, all the issues with Ireland’s waste water treatment systems cannot be fixed, according to the report, and a long-term strategy is required to address the shortcomings.

Highlighting the importance of targeting available resources efficiently for maximum effect, the EPA has identified a number of priority areas for improvements.

A total of 28 large towns and cities have waste water treatment which failed to meet mandatory standards. These account for over half of the sewage collected in Irish public sewers. The final deadline to comply with the standards was 2005 and Ireland is before the EU Court of Justice for breaching these requirements.

Another key area for priority incorporates 38 towns and villages which are discharging raw sewage. The EPA has prosecuted Irish Water for delays in providing treatment plants at six of these areas.

There are 57 areas where waste water discharges are the sole environmental threat to rivers, lakes and coastal waters at risk of pollution.

Other priorities include:
  • Areas where upgrade works are needed to protect four beaches with poor-quality bathing water. The affected beaches are Merrion Strand, Clifden, Loughshinny and Sandymount Strand;
  • 15 areas where improvements are needed to protect critically endangered freshwater pearl mussels or to safeguard shellfish habitats;
  • 13 priority collection networks (sewers) that need to be upgraded.

Commenting on the report Dr. Tom Ryan, director of the EPA’s Office of Environmental Enforcement said: “Ireland is not addressing the deficiencies in its waste water treatment infrastructure at a fast-enough pace.

“It is unacceptable that, 13 years after the final deadline to comply with treatment standards, there are still 28 large towns and cities discharging inadequately treated sewage that fails to meet these standards.

“This is putting our health at risk and is having an impact on our rivers, lakes and coastal waters.”

Darragh Page, Programme Manager of the EPA’s Office of Environmental Enforcement said: “Investment in waste water infrastructure has brought environmental benefits in 2017, and we welcome the elimination of discharges of raw sewage from the equivalent of over 50,000 people.

However, a substantial increase in the rate of investment is necessary to provide the infrastructure needed to treat our waste water.

“Irish Water also needs to improve its understanding of the condition and performance of sewers, to help focus sewer upgrade works where they are most urgently needed,” Page concluded.

Those interested in viewing the full report can do so here.