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Thursday 7 December 2023 Dublin: 10°C
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EPA releases industrial water register for first time - but redacts almost 150 farm businesses

Businesses across a host of industries must register if they are abstracting 25,000 litres of water per day.

A REGISTER CONTAINING information on industries abstracting intensive volumes of water from rivers and lakes across the country has been published for the first time.

However, information on almost 150 farming businesses pumping or diverting water has been redacted in the document.

Businesses must register if they are abstracting 25,000 litres per day. The information is then held by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Ireland’s environmental regulator.

Discussions between the EPA and the Department of Agriculture led to a decision to redact any identifying information around farming businesses, a departure from how the rest of the list is handled by the regulator.

  • Read more here on how to support a major Noteworthy project to examine if lax rules on water abstraction are affecting our local water supplies.

The Journal has previously reported how it was claimed that the department pressured the environmental watchdog not to release the list containing information on farms pumping water from or diverting rivers and lakes across the country. 

The awareness around Ireland’s inconsistent water quality has been growing thanks to reports by the EPA demonstrating many of Ireland’s water bodies failing to show significant improvement in recent years.

However, the EPA eventually had to be ordered to release its water abstraction register by the Office of the Commissioner for Environmental Information (OCEI) after it previously resisted moves to publish the list.

The case was appealed to the OCEI by campaign group Right to Know. 

There are 1,223 non-drinking water locations detailed in the document. They range from data centres to quarries, meat plants and a host of other industries.

Water abstraction takes place in dairy, beef and horticultural farming, including for irrigation, and for cooling processes in other industries such as with data centres.

Marine ecologist Karin Dubsky, director of NGO Coastwatch Ireland, said the impact of abstraction on rivers and lakes can be harmful.

She urged a review of “all industrial licenses involving water abstraction and cooling water discharges” by taking into account climate change targets.

“Water abstraction is just one impact. For industry it usually means water taken in for use and then discharged in a different state.

“Abstracting water in hot weather when water levels may be low [and then] the discharge of the used ‘cooling water’ when animals in the receiving waters are already struggling due to heat and lower oxygen, can be seriously damaging,” Dubsky said.


The decision to withhold the information about registered farms will now be appealed by Right to Know, its co-director Ashley Glover told The Journal.

Where the register lists farms, it lists the county each farm is located in but anonymises the business. Instead, it calls them “an abstractor” and lists out what the farm is using the water for on the farm in question. Irrigation and parlour and herd washing are among the most common reasons listed.

When contacted, the EPA claimed that legislation in the 2018 Abstractions Regulations “explicitly forbid” the watchdog from “disseminating personal information” contained within the register.

This is disputed by Right to Know, with Glover saying that some farms on the register are already listed having registered with the EPA’s online portal for licencing wastewater and effluent discharges. This portal’s information is publicly available.

Glover criticised a “lack of transparency” over how the water data is held by the EPA on what he said are “clearly commercial enterprises”.

“It’s taken us 18 months to get to this stage and we’re still going to have to re-appeal now and go to the High Court to get these agricultural redactions removed,” Glover said.

“But if you take a farm that applies for planning permission, or discharge license, that information will be public domain. So why are the EPA redacting data?”

Personal data

In its decision to release the water abstraction register, the OCEI said that the EPA had claimed that the Department of Agriculture had “indicated to the EPA that unless the EPA agrees that data on individual farms and farmers is not made public, the Department will not share information on farmers and farms with the EPA”.

The EPA told The Journal that it does not consider this to mean that it was “pressured” by the department, and said that the two State bodies struck a deal over the sharing of farm data.

This sees it operate a “memorandum of understanding that covers the sharing of data in accordance with national and European legislative requirements”, the EPA said.

While the EPA maintains the register, it is the registrants, or businesses, who input the data on their water abstraction activities – not the EPA or the Department of Agriculture.

The EPA said it will “review the requirements of new regulations” which are included in the incoming Abstractions and Associated Impoundments Act 2022, due to come into force replacing the 2018 laws.

This review will look at “the contents and publication of the register when the regulations come into effect”, it added.

As outlined by The Journal previously, there are talks to beef up the farm inspection units of local councils across the country with €5.5 million sought by the City and County Managers Association in this year’s Budget to hire 60 more inspectors – multiples of its current total of 11 full-time inspectors.

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