Uisce Éireann must use its new investment plan to end pollution of our rivers and coastal waters from waste water

Over half of Ireland’s waste water discharges are not meeting EU standards set to protect the environment.

  • Uisce Éireann has committed to eliminating raw sewage discharges by 2025 from the majority of the 26 towns and villages with no treatment.
  • Uisce Éireann still does not have clear plans to prevent pollution at some of the most significantly impacted water bodies, and it is vital these are resolved through its new investment plan.
  • Treatment plants must be operated and maintained properly to prevent impacts on the environment.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) report Urban Waste Water Treatment in 2022, released today, shows that Uisce Éireann has made progress in stopping discharges of raw sewage over the past year, with the connection of six villages to new treatment plants in 2022. However, waste water continues to harm the quality of many of Ireland’s rivers, estuaries, lakes and coastal waters. While works to upgrade treatment plants and prevent pollution are progressing in some areas, Uisce Éireann’s delays in other areas are prolonging the risks to the environment and public health.

Launching the report, Dr Tom Ryan, EPA Director said:

“While it is encouraging to see continued progress in stopping the unacceptable practice of discharging raw sewage into our environment, waste water remains a significant pressure on Ireland’s water ways and is adversely impacting water quality. The pace at which Uisce Éireann is delivering improvements needs to accelerate to prevent pollution and protect water quality.

He added:

“Uisce Éireann must take the opportunity of its new investment plan for 2025 to 2029 to deliver waste water infrastructure that meets the needs of our society and protects and improves our environment into the future. The investment plan must prioritise resources to prevent pollution in the priority areas highlighted by the EPA.”

Thirty years after Ireland was required to bring provisions into force to comply with EU treatment standards set to protect the environment, less than half (45 per cent) of waste water is treated to these standards. This is expected to improve significantly to over 90 per cent when the upgrade of Ireland’s largest treatment plant at Ringsend in Dublin is complete.

Noel Byrne, EPA Programme Manager, said:

“It is welcome that Uisce Éireann is currently building infrastructure at large urban areas, including Ringsend and Arklow, which are designed to treat waste water to a high standard. However, poor management practices at upgraded plants, such as Skibbereen and Courtmacsherry, caused inadequately treated sewage to discharge into the environment. This is not acceptable as these plants have sufficient treatment capacity. Uisce Éireann must implement effective maintenance programmes for existing infrastructure and improve its operation and management of treatment plants to prevent such failures in future.”

The report is now available on the EPA website.

Environmental priorities

It will take a multi-billion euro investment, and at least two decades, to bring all waste water treatment systems up to the standard needed to protect our environment and also provide for future needs. As all the problems cannot be fixed in the short term, Uisce Éireann must direct the resources that are available to the areas where they are needed most and will bring the greatest benefits. The EPA identifies the following as priority areas:

  • 26 towns and villages that were discharging raw sewage daily in mid-2023. New treatment plants were recently completed at two of these, Kerrykeel, Co. Donegal and Liscannor, Co. Clare.
  • 15 large towns and cities where waste water treatment failed to meet European Union standards set to protect the environment. These include the greater Dublin area, served by an overloaded plant at Ringsend that treats over 40 per cent of Ireland’s urban waste water.
  • 39 areas where waste water is adversely impacting the quality of rivers, estuaries, lakes and coastal waters. Uisce Éireann is taking far too long to design and start delivering the improvements needed at many (28) of these areas.
  • 12 towns and villages where waste water treatment must improve to protect freshwater pearl mussels. Uisce Éireann’s failure to advance works at half of these areas is prolonging the risks to these endangered species.
  • 6 large towns and cities where collecting systems (sewers) must be upgraded to protect the environment and address the findings of a 2019 judgement from the Court of Justice of the European Union.

You can view the list of priority areas and the environmental issues at each area on the EPA website at the link here. This also shows when and how Uisce Éireann plans to resolve the priority issues at each area.

Uisce Éireann must use its new investment plan to end pollution of our rivers and coastal waters from waste water

26 towns and villages discharging raw sewage in mid-2023

Uisce Éireann must use its new investment plan to end pollution of our rivers and coastal waters from waste water

15 towns and cities that failed the EU standards set to protect the environment

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