The Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA) has said that the recent water quality report from the European Commission shows some “encouraging signs” for water quality improvement in Ireland.

Environment Committee chairman, Paul O’Brien, said: “In particular, the report shows improvements in 152 of 726 water bodies that were prioritised areas for action in the Water Framework Directive (WFD) River Basin Management Plan 2018-21.”

He said recent comments from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) were disappointing, as the IFA believes that they didn’t accurately reflect these improvements, or the investments being made by farmers to improve water quality.

Improvements in water quality

O’Brien said: “We all know that there is more work to be done, but it’s important that the work that is ongoing and improvements that are being achieved through programmes such as the Agricultural Catchment Programme (ACP) and the Agricultural Sustainability Support and Advice Programme (ASSAP) are fully recognised.

The chairperson said the report attributed the improvements in water quality to the positive efforts of farmers, local communities, local authorities and other public bodies through the various programmes.

The IFA said that the report also recognised that these programmes, that work collaboratively with farmers, are “very important as they support farmers to select the right measures in the right place, at the right times”.

“The report also acknowledged that many of the changes that have taken place on farms under the current Nitrates Action Programme [NAP], such as fencing of waterbodies, moving of water troughs, diverting run off from farm roadways away from waterbodies, and the compulsory use of low emission slurry spreading [LESS] on all derogation farms, which were only introduced in 2021, were not captured in the water quality reporting period,” O’Brien added.

He said despite all the “negative commentary”, the report shows that Ireland’s groundwater quality is generally good, with a number of monitoring stations showing an increasing trend.

Surface waters also have low nitrate concentrations and the number of waters that are eutrophic remains limited, the chairperson said.