The EPA released the Water Quality in 2020 report on 14th July, indicating that nearly half of our rivers (47%) and a third of lakes are failing to meet their environmental quality standards for nutrients, with serious consequences for the health of Irish waters.  Rather than meeting our obligations under EU law to halt and reverse water pollution, it is actually on the rise: more than one third of river sites (38%) have increasing levels of nitrate pollution.  

While there have been improvements in some waterbodies, many of these are still not reaching good quality (which is a legal obligation of the EU Water Framework Directive), and this is compounded by a large number of sites which are still declining nationally. 

A number of rivers in the South and South East such as the Barrow, the Slaney and the Lee are of particular concern, with the majority (85%) of the nitrogen in these rural rivers coming from agriculture. 

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

This is yet another report from the EPA again highlighting the consistent decline in water quality. While there have been some small improvements, they’re overshadowed by the overall declines. This is not a good news story.

This report is another clear indication that the water protection measures currently in place under the Nitrates Directive are failing to adequately protect our rivers, coast and groundwater from agricultural run-off, despite increased investment in this area, with the establishment of Agricultural Sustainability Support and Advisory Programme (ASSAP), and other measures intended to address this. 

Only one third of the 190 waterbodies under the ASSAP programme have seen net improvements, despite focussed efforts and funding.

The EPA has clearly outlined that the next Nitrates Action Programme must address pollution from agriculture and deliver for water quality, and that sustained improvements will be difficult to achieve unless this is addressed.

Ireland has obligations under the Water Framework Directive to bring all water bodies into good status by 2027. Given the expansionist agenda within the agricultural sector combined with the ongoing Governmental policy direction for agriculture, it is difficult to see how this can be achieved. 

Dr. McGoff continued:

Do we have to wait until our water quality entirely collapses before we see meaningful action? We need wholesale and effective action, not tinkering around the edges. The need is great and the time is now.