Raw sewage into open water to persist from dozen towns

Pace of Irish Water links to wastewater treatment plants criticised in report

Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien: The  €139 million wastewater treatment plant for Arklow is “a hugely important step to rectifying the unacceptable situation” whereby the town’s waste water is piped untreated into the Avoca. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien: The €139 million wastewater treatment plant for Arklow is “a hugely important step to rectifying the unacceptable situation” whereby the town’s waste water is piped untreated into the Avoca. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

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Twelve towns and villages across Ireland will continue discharging raw sewage into open waters after 2024 due to ongoing delays by Irish Water in connecting them to wastewater treatment plants, a progress report has found.

In an update on Irish Water’s activities, covering the second quarter of this year, the independent Water Advisory Body (WAB) noted that water treatment in these areas last year failed to meet European Union standards designed to protect the environment.

While the number of large towns that failed to comply with the mandatory EU standards had fallen from 19 to 12, the final deadline to meet these standards was meant to have been in 2005, it said.

“The WAB notes with concern that the Environmental Protection Agency has again highlighted the pace at which deficiencies are addressed by Irish Water,” the report notes.

Avoca river

“The WAB also notes with concern that delays in delivering infrastructural works means that the discharge of raw sewage will continue after 2024 in 12 of the 34 towns and villages with no treatment, and beyond 2027 for two sites.”

The Government on Tuesday approved plans for a €139 million wastewater treatment plant for Arklow, Co Wicklow.

Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien said it was “a hugely important step to rectifying the unacceptable situation” which sees the town’s waste water piped untreated into the Avoca river. Locals have been campaigning for such a plant for more than 30 years.

The Minister said the plant would “facilitate economic development and . . . safeguard the environment”, while Cllr Pat Fitzgerald said it would unblock an issue that has slowed housing development in the town.

Pipe network

The WAB report also highlights a “continued and disappointing drop-off” in the number of lead water pipe repairs completed under the First Fix Free Scheme. The scheme is seen as key to stopping hundreds of millions of litres of water a day being wasted in the pipe network before it gets to properties. Since being introduced in 2015, the scheme has resulted in savings of 155 million litres of water a day, enough to supply 450,000 homes a year.

WAB chairman Paul McGowan said it was anticipated that the introduction of the excess water use charges for households, with initial bills likely to come in 2023, would encourage a greater take-up.

In response to the report, Irish Water said the building, repair and upgrading of water and wastewater treatment plants, water and sewer networks would require a multibillion investment programme over many years. Close to €900 million would be spent on capital investment this year, it said.