The EPA have today released the Water Quality in 2023 report, indicating our waters continue to be polluted by human activity, and that we have not made any significant improvements in water quality for 2023. This follows a decade-long decline in water quality in Ireland.

Nutrient pollution is identified as one of the main drivers of the declines, 42% of our rivers and 17% of estuarine and coastal water bodies have too much nitrogen. This is primarily attributable to intensive agriculture, and is a particular problem on free draining soils in the south and southeast.

Urban wastewater is also a significant polluter, and was highlighted by the EPA as requiring further action.

The report indicates that nutrient levels are not reducing in our waters. A step change in how we manage our waters is needed to address this long standing problem.

Dr. Elaine McGoff, Head of Advocacy with An Taisce said:

“This is another worrying EPA water quality report, once again highlighting no improvement in water quality trends in Ireland.

The fact that agricultural nitrogen pollution didn’t improve in the south and southeast of the country should come as no surprise to anyone. Despite all the rhetoric about saving our nitrates derogation and turning the tide on water quality in Ireland, there is no evidence of the necessary improvement in our waters.

Farmers are jumping through a number of environmental hoops, but the problem is the measures they’re being asked to put in place don't work for all pollutants, and they’re largely inadequate for targeting nitrogen pollution. They may work well for silt, phosphorus, or biodiversity, but they’re not designed for addressing nitrogen. And until we fix that, and put the right measures in the places that we need them then we’re only fooling ourselves if we think the water quality trends are going to dramatically improve. We need to take a science based catchment approach.

It’s also shocking that our wastewater treatment plants are still polluting our waterways in this day and age. It is critical that the Government take the necessary steps, and provide the necessary funding, to halt polluting wastewater discharges into all water bodies.

According to a recent EPA report, 81% of Irish people rate water pollution as their key environmental concern. Catchment is the new community, we depend on each other to protect it, and farmers play an absolutely key role in this. We now need a step change in how we manage our waters and how we manage our land and wastewater.  We can’t keep doing largely the same thing and expecting a different outcome.”