30% fall in fertiliser use expected to improve lake and river water quality


There has been a 30 per cent reduction in the use of chemical fertilisers on Irish farms over the past two years. This will result in significant improvement in water quality in rivers and lakes, the Department of the Environment has predicted.

Such a dramatic reduction could be largely attributed to its focus on the serious impact phosphate fertilisers were having on inland waters, a spokesman said.

Fertiliser use climbed steadily to 62,000 tonnes a year by the mid-1990s, but the latest indication is a figure of 45,000 tonnes for 1997-98, a spokesman said. "This is no coincidence. It can be attributed to the increased focus on nutrient management planning." (This is where farmers calculate the effects of phosphate and nitrate fertiliser use on land/water).

The "phosphate issue" also got a high profile. Local initiatives to curtail phosphate wastes had helped, combined with Teagasc's revised phosphorus recommendations.

There were other indications of progress in addressing water quality problems built-up over the past 30 years. Notably, the extent of river length classified as "seriously polluted" had been reduced from 6 to 0.6 per cent over the past 15 to 20 years. This was rarely acknowledged, he said, while such an improvement would not have been achieved, if nothing was being done. He accepted, nonetheless, that agricultural wastes had caused increased "light to moderate pollution".

Responding to criticism from Carra-Mask Angling Federation, which told the European Commission the latest phosphate control regulations were practically useless, he said there were many indications that the State's efforts were beginning to pay off. Lough Conn, one the west's most important lakes, had seen a 30 per cent reduction in phosphate loading in the last five years.

The State was investing heavily in sewage infrastructure. Phosphate-reduction capability was now in many treatment plants. Some £50 million, for example, was being spent on sewage plants on Loughs Derg and Ree, with the middle to lower sections of Derg already showing improvement.

The "catchment approach" to monitoring waters was being implemented in Loughs Derg, Ree and Leane, and rivers Boyne, Liffey and Suir, in a £120 million programme. "To say the [new] regulations won't achieve anything does an immense disservice to all the work that is being done," the Department spokesman said.

Equally, 40,000 farmers were tied into REPS eco-friendly farming scheme which had a requirement for nutrient management planning. The phosphate standards were applicable over 10 years, but in some cases it would be possible to go beyond these. The objective, in any event, would be to achieve good-quality water status throughout the State.