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An EPA report released last month flagged the negative impact agriculture was having on water quality. Eamonn Farrell/Rollingnews.ie
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Local councils hiring inspectors to target farms over pollution concerns

It follows concerns over the impact agriculture has been having on water quality in a number of regions.

LOCAL AUTHORITIES HAVE been hiring ‘private farm inspectors’ to help tackle pollution in at-risk areas. 

Funding was announced earlier this year to resource work targeted at water quality pressures, as described by the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage. 

Some councils have started hiring and are targeting areas, with Laois County Council the latest to tender for the role.

Some areas likely to be targeted include those flagged by the EPA in recent reports as part of plans to increase the rate of inspection of farms from 5% to 10% each year. 

Last month, the agency highlighted how farming was playing a significant role in the declining water quality in some regions, due  to nitrogen emissions from agricultural activities.

A spokesperson for Laois County Council said the local authority has tendered to “form a panel of suitably qualified consultants to carry out farm inspections if needed”.

The consultants will only be carrying out the farm inspections and reporting back to the environment office of the council.

As they are outsourced contractors they will have no role in any enforcement actions, with Laois County Council remaining responsible for all such actions.

The spokesman added that if enforcement is taken, measures can range from verbal instruction to being served written notice under the Local Government (Water Pollution) Act to carry out works to control pollution. 

In some cases, individuals may also be reported to the Department of Agriculture. 

According to Donegal County Council, inspections there will focus primarily on farmyards and will concern slurry storage, silage pits, manure pits and minimisation of soiled water.

“The council will draw up a weekly programme of inspections in a small number of ‘at risk’ catchments and these will be completed by the contract staff using a pre-set inspection template and recorded in electronic format,” it said in its tender for the roles.

“Farms to be inspected will include the full range of farm types, including, dairy, sheep and mixed farms.”

Addressing the matter in the Dáil in March, Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien said his department was working with local authorities and the EPA to develop a “strengthened risk-based local authority-led National Agricultural Inspection Programme”.

In the meantime, he said “enhanced interim measures” would be introduced in the form of funding for private farm inspectors.

The new programme will be detailed in the third iteration of the River Basin Management Plan which will be published in the coming weeks.

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