The money question on treating waste waters

Dublin, Cork and Galway still fail to meet mandatory EU waste water treatment standards 10 years after they were meant to comply

 

It is transparently obvious from the Environmental Protection Agency’s latest report on urban waste water treatment that hundreds of millions of euro will have to be invested in the coming years to eliminate wholly avoidable discharges of raw sewage into our waters.

The report found that this is still happening in 43 areas, yet the planned delivery of treatment plants at half of these places has now been delayed for one reason or another. “It is not acceptable that the timeframe to eliminate the discharge of raw sewage from over 20 [OF THESE]areas has slipped by almost two years,” said Gerard O’Leary, director of the EPA’s Office of Environmental Enforcement. “We need to see increased capital investment and improved efficiencies in the delivery of the outstanding infrastructure necessary to protect our rivers, lakes and coastal waters.”

The report notes that annual investment in water infrastructure since 2014 dropped by 40 per cent from average levels during the previous decade. Yet 29 large towns and cities – including Dublin, Cork and Galway – still fail to meet mandatory EU waste water treatment standards more than 10 years after they were meant to comply, while the EPA blames poor water quality at six popular beaches, including Merrion Strand in Dublin, on inadequately treated discharges from sewage treatment plants or raw sewage outfalls. In addition, audits carried out by the agency found 29 treatment plants had no operation and maintenance programme.

The message is clear: significant funding will be required to ensure that Ireland complies with EU directives, whether this comes from the Exchequer or from water charges.

The commission set up to examine future funding options is due to submit its report next week, after which its findings will be considered by a special Oireachtas committee. Given the extreme sensitivity of the issue, many politicians are likely to fudge it because of their fears of a renewed public backlash. However, they must spell out where the money is to come from if they abandon the model of Irish Water and the utility charges required to fund it.

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