River Basin Management Plan 2018-2021

The second cycle River Basin Management Plan launched on 17 April 2018 is the cornerstone of work in Ireland to address threats to our water environment, through implementation of the EU Water Framework Directive (WFD).  It represents the culmination of 15-20 years’ work and is required under the WFD to set out measures to bring all our waters to ‘good status’ by 2021. Unfortunately SWAN believes the Plan lacks ambition and only aims to fix a small fraction of our unhealthy rivers, lakes, groundwater and coastal waters. Notwithstanding our misgivings, SWAN continues to work with government agencies and other stakeholders, including through the National Water Forum to participate in implementing the Plan.


Half our rivers and lakes aren’t in a healthy state:  New government plan lacks ambition to fix them, say environmental groups – SWAN Press Release issued 17 April 2018.

The overdue River Basin Management Plan launched today by the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government falls far short of what is needed to protect our rivers, lakes and bays and to bring them up to a healthy standard.  Despite the best efforts of a team of officials and scientists based in the EPA and the Department of Housing, Planning & Local Government, and the Local Authority Community and Water Office (LAWCO), the Plan lacks the political will needed to support Ireland’s claims to be a ‘green’ tourist destination and threatens its capability to become a truly environmentally-friendly food producer through such programmes as ‘Origin Green’.

The legal requirement under the EU Water Framework Directive, in place since 2000, is to introduce new measures to bring our rivers, lakes and bays up to a good ecological state by 2021 (with some exemptions until 2027).  However this obligation has been under-resourced to the extent that half (52%) of Ireland’s rivers and lakes are failing to achieve the ‘good status’ required by the Directive; this latest Plan is sadly consistent with Ireland’s lack of ambition to date, proposing to fix only a small fraction (12%) of these.

Our water environment is the final recipient of many of the by-products of human activities, some are well-treated, but many are not and pose a threat to human and environmental health.  Discharge of raw and inadequately treated sewage; spreading of slurry, fertiliser and pesticides on farmland; unsuitable coniferous forestry, drainage of peatland and wetlands and faulty septic tanks, have all been identified as posing a threat to our water environment.  The Plan being launched today falls far short of the significant changes needed to adequately address these persistent shortcomings.

Sinead O’Brien, Coordinator of the Sustainable Water Network (SWAN) said:

This Plan lacks ambition and is an exercise in doing the best you can to stem pollution whilst imposing no significant obligations for change on any of the sectors responsible.”

She went on:

“Far more state investment is urgently needed to end the discharge of raw and poorly treated sewage into our rivers and bays.  Also, grant-aid to farmers must shift so as to support farming that prevents water pollution, protects the rural landscape and contributes to sustainable flood management, rather than encouraging an intensification programme not yet proven to be sustainable.”

Given its low targets for water quality improvements, which are clearly not in line with legislation, the River Basin Management Plan not only exposes the Irish State to the risk of daily fines from the EU but it means that communities miss out on the enormous benefits of a clean and healthy water environment for recreation, tourism, business, nature and, of course, for simple enjoyment.