Raw sewage flowing into rivers and sea in 35 places across Ireland

Environmental Protection Agency critical of Irish Water’s delivery of treatment plants

The EPA report notes that 33 places are unlikely to receive treatment until an undetermined date after 2021. File photograph: Getty

The EPA report notes that 33 places are unlikely to receive treatment until an undetermined date after 2021. File photograph: Getty

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Raw sewage from 35 towns and villages across the State continues to be discharged into nearby waters, according to an Environmental Protection Agency report which is highly critical of Irish Water’s delivery of new treatment plants.

In a report on urban wastewater treatment for 2019, the agency accuses the utility of pushing back deadlines and of having “no clear plan” for 23 of the towns and villages on the list.

In all, 33 places are unlikely to receive treatment until an undetermined date after 2021, it warns – including Arklow and Cobh, which have a combined population of 32,000.

Meanwhile, treatment at 19 of of the State’s 172 large towns and cities, including Dublin and Cork, failed to meet European Union pollution standards – although this is down from the 28 places registered previously.

Some improvements are evident, the report accepts. Raw sewage discharges have stopped in one town, while improvements to wastewater treatment have been made in nine towns and villages.

However, Irish Water has “repeatedly revised its plans and extended the timeframe to provide treatment for towns and villages including those that are discharging raw sewage”, it says.

Director of the agency’s Office of Environmental Enforcement Dr Tom Ryan said raw sewage discharges pose an unacceptable risk to the environment and public health.

Reducing risks

Growing uncertainty in Irish Water’s planning and delivery of critical projects is undermining confidence in its ability to reduce public health and environment risks quickly, he added.

Defending the utility’s record, Irish Water managing director Niall Gleeson said €308 million was spent in 2019 improving wastewater treatment – up by €78 million from 2018. “We are making real and tangible progress,” he said.

The amount of untreated and inadequately treated wastewater being discharged has fallen by half since 2014, he said, while planning issues had delayed some other projects.