Irish Water defends record on raw sewage discharges after criticism in EPA report

Utility on track to end ‘almost all raw sewage discharges’ into waters within three years

An EPA 2021 bathing water quality report said it needed to improve the operation, management and maintenance of treatment plants and networks which impact on bathing waters. Photograph” David Sleator

An EPA 2021 bathing water quality report said it needed to improve the operation, management and maintenance of treatment plants and networks which impact on bathing waters. Photograph” David Sleator

 

Irish Water has defended its record on improving wastewater treatment and confirmed the utility is on track to end “almost all raw sewage discharges” into rivers, lakes and seas within the next three years.

Responding to EPA criticism in its 2021 bathing water quality report, which said it needed to improve the operation, management and maintenance of treatment plants and networks which impact on bathing waters, the utility said it was “committed to safeguarding public health and protecting the environment while also supporting development of new homes and industry”.

Local authorities were responsible for the monitoring and managing of bathing waters, while “Irish Water’s role is to operate and manage wastewater infrastructure so it does not negatively impact on bathing waters,” a spokesman pointed out.

Bathing water quality can be impacted by a number of factors, including run-off from agricultural land and roads, dog and bird fouling and misconnections from houses and businesses, he added, while the EPA report had confirmed urban wastewater accounted for less than a quarter of likely causes of pollution incidents in 2021.

“Since its establishment, Irish Water has made big strides in improving urban wastewater treatment... including upgrading existing treatment plants and wastewater networks, and building infrastructure where none existed previously.

“Overall the standard of wastewater treatment in Ireland continues to improve as a result of Irish Water’s investment,” the spokesman said.

“We are on track to end almost all raw sewage discharges within the next three years, with 60 per cent of these already eliminated since 2014. Due to the work undertaken to address long-standing issues with many wastewater treatment plants, compliance with the [EU] Urban Wastewater Treatment Directive has increased from 71 per cent in 2014 to 93 per cent in 2020,” he added.

Irish Water was working to improve this even further and when issues were identified impacting bathing water quality “we prioritise actions to address these as quickly as possible. Irish Water will be investing approximately €1.78 billion over the next three years in wastewater improvements”.

Investment

Irish Water’s head of environmental regulation Katherine Walshe highlighted the positive impact of its investment where it has completed upgrade projects, such as Youghal, Bundoran and Rush.

“In the past year we completed the landmark Cork Lower Harbour Main Drainage Project, ending the discharge of the equivalent of 40,000 wheelie bins of raw sewage daily into the harbour waters,” she said.

It had also started construction on the long-awaited new wastewater treatment plant in Arklow which, when it is completed in 2025, would bring big benefits to the town and surrounding areas in terms of health, environmental protection and improved water quality.

Since 2014, Irish Water had built new wastewater infrastructure for 17 towns and villages across the country, ending the discharge of raw sewage into our rivers, lakes and seas; the equivalent of over 100,000 people’s wastewater, every day, she said.

“Last year we awarded contracts to end the discharge of raw sewage in 13 locations. So far in 2022 we have awarded contracts for two additional locations with more to follow in the coming months.

“Since 2014, 60 per cent 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,” Ms Walshe said.

Irish Water was also working to increase understanding of how public wastewater networks operate, she said, and various pressures on bathing waters such as dog fouling and sewer-related litter, through partnerships with various stakeholders including UCD’s Acclimatise Project and the Clean Coasts Think Before You Flush/Pour campaign.