DSCN1064Ireland’s water environment

Ireland’s rivers, lakes, coastal waters and groundwater constitute a remarkable heritage and a rich network of resources. Their beauty and bounty have guaranteed pleasure and sustenance to people and wildlife for millennia. The experience of a peaceful, unspoiled water environment is priceless, and in Ireland we commonly promote this bucolic image to tourists. Nevertheless, it’s a vision increasingly disturbed by a distressing reality.

For the most part, we’ve been lucky in Ireland. High rainfall, low population density and little industry have meant that our waters remained some of the cleanest in Europe. But Ireland is changing. We can no longer take this precious resource for granted. There has been a serious drop in water quality in Ireland over the past thirty years. Economic growth in the early 2000s was fostered unwisely, often with a lack of supporting sewage treatment capacities. This, along side intensive farming, has together polluted the clean, abundant waters for which Ireland is lauded, leading to beach closures and boil water notices.

But one piece of European legislation provides a powerful tool to protect our inland waterways, groundwater and coasts. The Water Framework Directive may seem like just another example of inaccessible EU jargon, but don’t let the name put you off.  It was the driver behind an unprecedented programme of activity in the areas of water mapping, monitoring and planning between 2000 and 2010.

As a result of the WFD, River Basin Management Plans for 2009-2015 applicable to each of seven regions in the country were published in 2010. These Plans (along with background documents) describe the waters of each region, their current state and the pressures they face. The Plans also outlined some of the measures needed to restore unsatisfactory waters to WFD standards. Unfortunately, these Plans have mostly not been implemented in the five years since they were published.

The Sustainable Water Network (SWAN) made a number of submissions during the drafting of these Plans, and we continue working to ensure that significant shortcomings in the Plans are addressed in the short term and also in the next cycle of Plans, to be published in 2017. These submissions can be viewed here.