EU takes action over sewage pollution in State’s waterways

Irish Water claims bringing waste water services up to standard will cost €2bn

Former town councillor Peter Dempsey campaigning in Arklow, Co Wicklow. Photograph: Garry O’Neill

Former town councillor Peter Dempsey campaigning in Arklow, Co Wicklow. Photograph: Garry O’Neill


The EU Commission has escalated a case against Ireland over the State’s failure to protect rivers and coastal areas from sewage pollution.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, which monitors compliance with the EU Waste Water Treatment Directive, 31 large urban areas failed to meet EU standards, while a further 45 urban areas had no treatment at all.

Engineers Ireland said it was clear the State’s water infrastructure was “not fit for purpose” and fixing the problems would be “enormously challenging”.

Irish Water put the cost of the upgrades involved at about €2 billion.

The escalation of the EU case involves the making of additional formal complaints against Ireland, after deadlines for improvements in the 12 large urban areas were not met.

The 12 large urban areas which failed to meet deadlines for improvements include the combined Ringaskiddy/Crosshaven/Carrigaline area of Co Cork which has a population of 117,000 people.

It also includes Killybegs, Co Donegal, which has a population of 23,000 and Arklow Co Wicklow, with 16,000.

Under the Waste Water Directive, issued in 1991, all three areas were to have had secondary treatment by December 2000.

The latest available estimates for compliance are December 2016 in the case of Ringaskiddy/ Crosshaven/ Carrigaline; summer 2017 for Killybegs and 2019 for Arklow.

Untreated sewage

Arklow and Killybegs are also on the list of urban areas which have no treatment of sewage before it is discharged into the sea.

The EPA said urban areas receiving no treatment also include Youghal, Co Cork with a population of 15,000; Cobh, Co Cork (14,400); Passage West and Monkstown, Co Cork (9,120); Rush, Fingal, Co Dublin (7,800); Kilkee, Co Clare (5,770); and Kilrush, Co Clare (5,551).

Since the publication of the 2014 Urban Waste Water Treatment Report, Irish Water has said new plants have been completed at two of the 45 areas, Ardmore and Dunmore East in Co Waterford.

The 2015 report is expected later this year.

Areas that received preliminary treatment, “a basic form of treatment typically designed to remove floating debris, oils, fats, grease, grit, rags and large solids from the raw waste water”, included the Ringaskiddy/ Crosshaven/ Carrigaline area and Bundoran, Co Donegal, which serves 13,034.

In terms of effluent quality from sewage treatment plants, the Ringsend Waste Water Treatment Works, which serves 2.1 million people in the greater Dublin area, failed the compliance test due to “quality”.

Many area which discharge untreated sewage do so into special areas of conservation and specially protected areas for birds. The EPA said failure to properly treat sewage “can pose a risk to human health and the aquatic environment” .

David Flynn, EPA programme manager, said “ultimately the Commission may escalate this case all the way to the final stage if Ireland is not seen to be delivering the required large capital investment programme in waste water on a shorter timescale”.

Irish Water said by the end of 2016 it would have invested some €650 million. It said it would continue to focus on the towns where there was no wastewater treatment at all.

“We have prioritised major infrastructure and investment of €162 million to provide for seven large urban areas with a commitment to end discharges of untreated waste to these areas by 2019.

“These are Cobh, Passage West/Monsktown, Ringaskiddy/Crosshaven/Carrigaline, Youghal, Killybegs, Bundoran and Arklow.

“By the end of 2021 we will have addressed all areas, including the 38 smaller locations” said a spokeswoman.