Water quality

Wed, May 8, 2013, 01:00

Prevention is better than cure. It is also more cost-effective where water management is concerned. Research conducted for the Environmental Protection Agency has reported a “dramatic loss” of waterbodies in pristine condition over the past 20 years. The agency now recommends tighter planning controls and a code of practice covering the use of pesticides, forestry practices and overgrazing. If that is not done, financial penalties may be imposed by the European Union under the Water Framework Directive.

Widespread annual destruction of aquatic life through catastrophic slurry spills, industrial activity and local sewage discharges is almost a thing of the past. Accidents still happen. But much greater care is taken by those involved. Even with reduced levels of pollution, however, those damaged waterbodies may never fully recover. The concern of the EPA, at this stage, is to protect the limited number of rivers and lakes that have escaped degradation and to maintain their biodiversity.

Most pristine waterbodies are in isolated areas. Threats come from low-intensity activity involving farming and forestry practices, once-off housing and wastewater treatment, riverbank erosion and sheep dip pesticides. Responding to these small impacts through better planning and regulation would, the EPA states, be much more cost effective than trying to repair damage, once it is caused.

Farmers, anglers and wildlife lovers are aware of a slowly worsening situation. Irish water quality has deteriorated as industrialisation spread, farming practices intensified and the population and its requirements grew. Massive fish kills and health threats caused sporadic alarm, but low-level pollution continued as an insidious process. The cost of returning our major lakes and rivers to “good” quality status may now be unaffordable The situation remains manageable, however, where a small number of catchments are concerned. Those unspoiled waterbodies with their rich aquatic life should be preserved for future generations.