Construction begins on €139m wastewater treatment plant in Arklow

Raw sewage discharges to be eliminated into river Avoca in Co Wicklow

Construction on a €139-million wastewater treatment plant for Arklow, Co Wicklow began on Monday, marking the end of protracted delays in the project due to legal difficulties.

When completed, it will end discharges of raw sewage into the river Avoca – Arklow is the largest remaining town in Ireland without treatment.

The plant will bring significant benefits in protecting the environment and improving water quality in the river Avoca for angling, water sports and marine life, according to Irish Water, who is building the facility with Wicklow County Council. "It will also act as an enabler for housing and support economic growth and development in the town," it added.

The utility said it was a major milestone in its efforts “to end the unacceptable practice of discharging untreated sewage into [Irish] waterways and seas”.


First proposed in 1988, it caused bitter divisions between townspeople about where is should be located. At one point, it was proposed for outside the town at Seabank but the site suffered extensive damage due to coastal erosion.

A sod-turning ceremony was led by the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Darragh O'Brien and Cllr Shay Cullen, cathaoirleach of the council.

“Construction of this wastewater treatment plant is pivotal for the future growth and development of Arklow town, and for the successful delivery of housing,” Mr O’Brien said.

Cllr Cullen added: “Commencement of this vital sewerage infrastructure development will lead to enhanced tourism opportunities... The removal of untreated wastewater to the River Avoca has long been a goal of Wicklow County Council, and we can now look forward to all the benefits of a cleaner environment.”

The project includes a treatment plant designed to provide treatment capacity for a population equivalent of up to 36,000 people at the Old Wallboard Factory site at Ferrybank in the town; two interceptor sewer pipelines (along North and South Quay) to bring untreated wastewater to the plant and an outfall pipe to safely discharge treated effluent to the Irish Sea. It is due to be completed and operational by 2025.

Irish Water's head of asset delivery Brian Sheehan pointed out that since 2014 Irish Water has built new wastewater infrastructure for 16 towns and villages, "ending the discharge of raw sewage into our rivers, lakes and seas; the equivalent of 100,000 people's worth, every day".

“Half of the raw sewage entering waterways in Ireland has now been eliminated and we are on track to fully removing the majority of raw sewage discharges by 2025,” he confirmed.

The contract for the project has been awarded to engineering contractors Ward & Burke Water Limited.

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan is Environment and Science Editor and former editor of The Irish Times