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Raw sewage from 35 towns and villages flows into our environment every day

The Environmental Protection Agency is sharply critical of Irish Water in its latest report.

wastewater The 35 towns and villages Source: EPA

THERE ARE 35 towns and villages in Ireland where raw sewage is released into the environment every day.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is critical of Irish Water in its analysis of urban waste water treatment last year, and said that treatment at 19 of Ireland’s 172 large towns and cities, including Dublin and Cork, failed to meet standards set to prevent pollution. 

Irish Water has admitted progress has been “slower than anticipated” but said that “real and tangible progress” is also being made.

  • Our colleagues at Noteworthy want to find out if swimming off Ireland’s coast is under threat from wastewater pollution. Support this project here.

In a report released this morning, the EPA said that “uncertainty in delays in delivering critical wastewater infrastructure is undermining confidence and prolonging the risk to the public”. 

It identifies 113 priority areas where improvements are needed to prevent water pollution, eliminate discharges of raw sewage, meet EU treatment standards and protect bathing waters and freshwater pearl mussels.

Some improvements in performance were in evidence last year, the EPA said, including the removal of the raw sewage discharges from one town and improvements in treatment at nine towns and villages where waste water was the main issue.

However, significant problems remained according to the EPA.

It said: “The final deadline for all large urban areas to meet EU treatment standards was 2005 and it is unacceptable that treatment at 19 areas failed to meet the standards in 2019.

“These include the greater Dublin area, served by Ringsend treatment plant, which is of significant concern because it produces almost half (44%) of Ireland’s waste water.”

The EPA said that the Ringsend plant repeatedly failed to meet standards last year because it does not have the capacity to effectively treat all the sewage it receives. 

However, it said that Irish Water is upgrading the plant and advises it will be completed in 2025.

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Three beaches where waste water contributed to poor quality bathing waters were also identified, in Clifden and Ballyloughane in Galway and Merrion Strand in Dublin. 

Dr Tom Ryan, director of the EPA’s office of environmental enforcement, said: “Raw sewage discharges pose an unacceptable risk to the environment and public health. Two years ago, Irish Water advised it would provide necessary treatment infrastructure by the end of 2021 for 30 of the 35 areas discharging raw sewage. It has now revised this down to just two areas, resulting in significant delays in bringing projects to completion.

Plans are only effective if implemented, and the inherent uncertainty of these plans is a serious cause of concern for the EPA. Irish Water must remedy the underlying causes for the delays in delivering this critical infrastructure to ensure that raw sewage discharges are eliminated.

In a statement, Irish Water’s managing director Niall Gleeson said: “We are making real and tangible progress working with local communities to deliver critical infrastructure which has suffered from years of historic underinvestment.

“Since 2014 we have made considerable progress in removing 130 areas from the priority area list, and have plans for the majority of the remaining 113 areas. We are always striving to prioritise the best possible service improvements, while maximising value-for-money with funding available.

Progress across a portfolio of projects has been slower than anticipated as we deal with an unprecedented level of statutory and planning issues. 
Delivering new infrastructure where it never existed presents a range of challenges - from competing investment priorities, to community support, to planning consents in addition to land acquisition which can take to up to two years for just one project. Indeed, there is a concerning upward trend in the number of acquisitions subject to CPO orders which remains a last resort.

Gleeson added that it expects to start work next year in 12 more communities where raw sewage is being discharged with the work of  most of the remaining areas to begin in 2022 or 2023.

About the author:

Sean Murray

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