Irish water quality is in grave decline

The EPA released the Water Quality in 2016-2021 report today. The report indicates that nearly half of rivers and lakes and two thirds of estuaries are not as healthy or resilient as they should be. This is a profoundly alarming statement, and a red alert for the state of Irish waters. 

Of particular concern are increasing pollution trends, with the EPA highlighting that water quality is going in the wrong direction, and that any local or individual-level improvements are being undermined by persistent systematic declines. 

The main drivers of this decline are agricultural activity, inadequate wastewater treatment, forestry processes, and activities such as land drainage and river alterations. 

Concentrations of nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus are far too high in many of our water bodies. Nearly a third of rivers and lakes have elevated phosphorus concentrations, and an alarming 39% of river sites had increasing concentrations of nitrogen. Nitrogen pollution is most prevalent in the south and southeast of the country. This is primarily driven by high levels  of intensive farming on freely draining soils, leading to runoff from synthetic fertiliser and animal waste.

 This in turn is impacting on the health of estuaries in those areas. Over the last decade the amount of nitrogen flowing into estuaries has increased by 37%, causing significant ecological degradation.

While there have been some improvements in certain areas on foot of community or individual action, individuals alone cannot solve the water quality crisis. Governments must stand up and be counted, it simply isn’t possible for individuals to solve this crisis without robust government support. Urgent and transformative steps are now necessary to stem the tide of water pollution..

An Taisce has made a series of recommendations for how the Government can protect water quality in the latest River Basin Management Plan. 

Dr. Elaine McGoff, Natural Environment Officer with An Taisce said:

“The water protection measures have failed time and time again, and the Government has long been aware that many of their policies for agricultural expansion, forestry planting and clearfelling,  and land drainage are at odds with their stated ambition to improve water quality. This is compounded by their failure to adequately address the shambles that is our water treatment infrastructure. 

It’s time for a different approach - an honest approach. We cannot keep doing the same thing and acting surprised when we get the same result. The Government now has an opportunity to take a different approach in drafting their new River Basin Management Plan which could, and should chart a way towards healthier waterways. 

This Government has demonstrated time and again where their priorities lie, and it’s not with the environment. Will they once again plan to fail to protect water quality, and capitulate to the demands of agribusiness, the forest industry and other vested interests, or will they step up and protect water quality for the common good?



For further information, contact:

Elaine McGoff, Natural Environment Officer, An Taisce: 085 7153796

email: [email protected]

An Taisce The National Trust for Ireland

An Taisce - Protecting Ireland’s heritage, safeguarding its future

An Taisce is a charity that works to preserve and protect Ireland's natural and built heritage. We are an independent charitable voice for the environment and for heritage issues. We are not a government body, semi-state or agency. Founded in 1948, we are one of Ireland’s oldest and largest environmental organisations.