Raw sewage flows into water at 43 urban areas, EPA report says

Agency names Howth, Kilmore Quay and Spiddal as among areas with untreated water discharge

The EPA’s urban waste water treatment report for 2015 says there are 124 areas where “priority issues” relating to sewage need to be addressed. Photograph: Frank Miller

The EPA’s urban waste water treatment report for 2015 says there are 124 areas where “priority issues” relating to sewage need to be addressed. Photograph: Frank Miller


The State is “not spending enough” to tackle the problem of raw and inadequately treated sewage discharging into lakes, rivers and coastal areas, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

The EPA’s urban waste water treatment report for 2015 said there were 124 areas where “priority issues” relating to sewage remained to be addressed.

Among the 124 are the cities of Dublin, Cork and Galway where the quality of treatment is insufficient, and a total of 43 urban areas where sewage is discharged to watercourses without any treatment at all.

In addition, the report detailed 22 of the 43 urban areas where the planned building of sewage treatment plants had been put back by between six months and three years – but in the case of Omeath, Co Louth from 2017 to 2020.

Included in this category were tourist destinations such as Howth in Co Dublin Kilmore Quay in Co Wexford; Spiddal and Roundstone in Co Galway; Falcarragh, Burtonport and Bundoran in Co Donegal; and Ballyvaughan in Co Clare.

The EPA noted just three new plants were built to deal with the problem of raw sewage since the 2014 report.

It was critical of Irish Water, saying “the pace of resolving waste water treatment needs to improve”.

The main points of the Urban Waste Water Treatment report 2015 are as follows:

*29 towns and cities failed to comply with mandatory EU waste water treatment standards in 2015

* Raw sewage is still discharging from 43 areas including the towns of Youghal, Co Cork; Arklow Co Wicklow; the grouped towns of Ringaskiddy/ Crosshaven / Carrigaline in Co Cork; Cobh, Co Cork; Bundoran and Killybegs in Co Donegal all of which have populations in excess of 10,000 people.

* New treatment plants have been built at Ardmore and Dunmore east in Co Waterford and Ballylongford, Co Kerry.

* 143 large towns and cities were compliant

* 13 collection networks require significant upgrades

* 16 waste water schemes require improvements to protect the critically endangered freshwater pearl mussel.

Just 25 percent of waste water discharged into nutrient sensitive areas from large towns and cities comply with nutrient quality standards, compared to en EU average of 88 percent.

Dublin’s Ringsend plant failed to comply with nutrient standards in 2015, largely because it was built for a population equivalent of 1.6 million people and currently handles a population equivalent of 2.2 million people - or roughly 40 percent of the State’s urban wastewater treatment capacity.

The EPA’s director of the office of environmental enforcement Gerard O’Leary said it was “not acceptable that the timeframe to eliminate the discharge of raw sewage from over 20 areas has slipped by almost two years”. We need to see increased capital investment and improved efficiencies” he said.

A spokeswoman for Irish Water, which took over responsibility for waste water treatment plants from 2014 said investment was increasing.

“Using the EPA figures, published today, it is clear that between 2000 and 2010 €270m annually was invested in wastewater infrastructure in Ireland. But she said from 2011 to 2013, there was a 50 percent drop in investment in wastewater infrastructure to €136m.

“When Irish Water took over responsibility in 2014, the national utility set about reversing that trend. Between 2014 and 2015, Irish Water increased the investment in wastewater to €166m, an increase of 22 per cent . From 2016 - 2021, the remaining period of the Irish Water Business Plan, the utility is ramping up investment to spend an average of €326m per year on wastewater infrastructure” the spokeswoman said.