Agricultural regulations ‘not doing enough to protect national water quality’

An Taisce has said that agricultural regulations are “not doing enough to protect national water quality” and has called on the Department of Agriculture to “acknowledge the role that regulation plays and review it in light of shifting weather patterns”.

This comes after E. coli from animal slurry was determined to be the predominant cause of increased bacterial levels in water across Co. Clare, leading to a swimming ban being put in place recently.

‘The source would appear to be diffuse agricultural pollution’

This was the second such ban in the space of two weeks for some Co. Clare beaches and according to An Taisce, the intensity of recent rainfall has led to run-off from farmland and malfunctioning septic tanks entering local rivers, with rivers then discharging their pollution load into the affected coastal water.

The four affected beaches are: Lahinch; White Strand Miltown Malbay; Spanish Point; and Kilkee. They are all Blue Flag beaches as a result of their “excellent bathing water quality”.

Controls on slurry spreading ‘clearly not functioning’

An Taisce said that the agricultural regulations that are in place for the protection of water quality are “clearly not functioning in this case”.

“The reason for this is likely twofold: they are not sufficient to prevent this type of pollution; and they are not being enforced rigorously enough,” the statement said.

“This problem has not arisen at these beaches in recent years, with a general trend of excellent water quality. The Department of Agriculture should be looking to see how they can better protect the water quality with these intense rainfall events.

The agricultural regulations are not doing enough to protect national water quality, with approximately 50% of our rivers being polluted and 62% of our estuaries, often as a result of agricultural run-off.

“This pollution event clearly shows that more needs to be done to improve that, particularly when it poses a public health risk and has such major impacts on local tourism.

“This is a widespread issue with no quick fix, but it is vital that the Department of Agriculture acknowledges the role that agricultural regulation plays in this, and reviews its regulations and enforcement in light of shifting weather patterns.

“2020 has been a challenging year for everyone and this may be the final straw for many struggling businesses.”

‘Responsibility lies with the Department of Agriculture’

Dr. Elaine McGoff, natural environment officer with An Taisce, said that while the vast majority of farmers are doing everything by the book, the “problem is that regulations themselves aren’t fit for purpose”.

“It’s the worst possible time for this to happen, when Irish people are trying to salvage the summer as best they can – now they find they can’t even swim in the local waters and businesses can’t operate as they need to.

“The economic and social impacts from this sort of an event are considerable, not to mention the ecological impacts on our already beleaguered marine wildlife.”