EPA publishes first water indicators’ report in 10 years

A new water indicators’ report for Ireland has recently been revealed by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA); representing the first report of this kind to be published by the agency in 10 years.

The 16 indicators in the report provide information on the quality of Ireland’s rivers, lakes, estuaries, beaches and groundwater.

These indicators present the current state and trends in water quality for each category. The report supplements the information provided in the EPA’s triennial ‘Water Quality in Ireland’ reports.

The new water indicators’ report for Ireland reveals:
  • A slight increase in pristine river sites – rising to 23 from the 21 sites reported in the last EPA Water Quality in Ireland Report;
  • Continued eradication of serious pollution – five seriously polluted river water bodies in 2014–2016, compared to 91 water bodies in the late 1980s;
  • An additional 1% of river water bodies (23 water bodies) falling under the ‘good status’ category, compared with the results in the last Water Quality in Ireland Report;
  • The maintenance of a long-term downward trend in the number of fish kills;
  • The presence of faecal contamination in over 40% of national groundwater monitoring sites. This result highlights the need for homeowners to check and, if necessary, treat their well water before consumption;
  • The continuing presence of nutrient pollution in a quarter of the country’s rivers and lakes, as well as a third of our estuaries and coastal waters.

Commenting on the report, the director of the EPA’s Office of Evidence and Assessment, Dr. Matt Crowe, said: “We all have a connection to water – be it our local beach, river, lake or the well that supplies our family and our animals with drinking water.

“Making sure that these waters are clean and well protected is critically important to our health and our well-being. Water also supports many important economic activities such as agriculture and tourism. These indicators help us track progress in protecting and improving this vital national asset.”

Main causes of pollution

Pollution caused by excess nutrients entering waters remains a key challenge, according to Andy Fanning – a programme manager within the EPA’s Office of Evidence and Assessment.

These nutrients come predominantly from Ireland’s farms, towns and villages, he added.

The assessment shows that elevated levels of nutrients (phosphorus and nitrogen) in waters continues to be the most widespread water quality problem in Ireland.

Nutrient losses from agriculture and wastewater discharges – together with physical habitat issues – are the primary reasons why the water quality objectives of the Water Framework Directive are not being met, the EPA explained.

In relation to agriculture, the pressures relate to diffuse nutrient run-off, sediment from land and point sources associated with farmyards, it added.

For wastewater, the main pressure is from urban wastewater discharges and diffuse urban discharges – which include misconnections leading to sewage effluent being discharged in to surface water drainage systems, the EPA warned.