Water Abstractions

Abstraction is the removal of water from surface water or groundwater, either permanently or temporarily, and its transport for use.

Ireland is currently in breach of EU Water Framework Directive (WFD) requirement for controls over the abstraction of fresh surface water and groundwater, which should include a register of abstractions and a licensing regime for abstraction and impoundment.

The impacts of abstraction depend on complex interactions between many factors including the volume abstracted, the time and duration of abstraction and return to a water body, the hydrology and morphology of water bodies and the degree of connectivity between different components of the hydrological cycle. As a result, impacts vary greatly both spatially and temporally.

Impacts include reduced flow volumes and velocities, with low flow levels exacerbated during naturally drier periods. Over abstraction can impact on the hydrology, hydrogeology and ecology of surface water bodies; with lower downstream water volumes, altered flow dynamics, channel morphology and water quality. Over-abstraction from groundwater can result in lower groundwater levels, altered storage capacity and potential impacts on groundwater quality and groundwater-dependent terrestrial ecosystems, with possible implications for connected surface water bodies. The ecology of freshwater environments can also be negatively impacted.

The Sustainable Water Network (SWAN) has produced a report on water abstraction in Ireland, highlighting the risks and potential impact of the State’s insufficient monitoring and regulation: Water Abstraction: Interactions with the Water Framework Directive & Groundwater Directive and Implications for the Status of Ireland’s Waters