Ireland’s waterways are the final recipient and carrier of many chemicals and pollutants that we release, knowingly and unknowingly, while going about our daily lives. Some of these chemicals can be treated before release, while others are absorbed and diluted by soil and water. Many persist in the water environment and interact in ways we don’t yet fully understand. In addition to this pollution, physical alterations to our rivers, lakeshores and coastlines, including building development, flood control and drainage of wetlands, cause damage to a range of habitats and can have serious knock-on effects on the water environment as well.

Due to the wide range of the threats to our waters and the diversity of sources, experts agree that an integrated approach to water management is crucial for success. This must look at all the pressures together, how they interact with each other and how they impact on the whole water environment, especially vulnerable habitats. A participative approach is also key to success, so that all citizens and sectors of society can be involved in deciding how we should manage our waters sustainably. For example, should we bring in stricter industrial discharge conditions or ban certain types of detergents? Or is preferable to increase taxes or introduce water charges to fund the necessary upgrades to faulty sewage treatment plants?

This integrated, participative approach is enshrined in the two major water laws that have emerged from Europe in the last 15 years and been transposed into Irish law: Both the Water Framework Directive (WFD) and the Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD) require an integrated ecosystems-based approach – involving all interested parties – for the protection and sustainable management of our inland and coastal waters (WFD) and marine waters (MSFD).

Both directives also require cyclical long-term planning to assess and address the impacts that human activities are having on aquatic resources. Water Framework Directive River Basin Management (RBM) Plans were published in 2010 and a programme of measures as part of a Marine Strategy must be produced in 2015 under the MSFD.

You can learn more about the WFD here  and the MSFD here.