Irish Water has defended its record in handling wastewater in the face of stinging criticism from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
In its annual report on wastewater treatment in Ireland, the EPA identified a series of issues.
They reported that sewage from the equivalent of 77,000 people in 36 towns and villages is released into the environment every day without treatment.
It described the pace of improvements in wastewater treatment infrastructure as "too slow" and noted that raw sewage discharges will continue beyond 2021 in 13 locations.
Responding to the report, Irish Water said that its investment in wastewater treatment will match its investment in drinking water next year for the first time. Its spend on wastewater treatment will be almost €400m in 2020.
Since 2014, Irish Water has stopped approximately 44% of untreated and inadequately treated wastewater that was being discharged into rivers, lakes and the sea, the company said in a statement.
In 2018, Irish Water invested €230m to improve Ireland’s wastewater infrastructure, removing 12 areas from the priority list and bringing seven large urban areas into compliance with the EU standards. It has also upgraded or built wastewater treatment plants in 20 areas, with more in the pipeline.
Sean Laffey, head of asset management at Irish Water, said, "In some cases, progress has been slower than we would like.
"The size and scale of the challenge we have faced over the past five years has been considerable, but we are confident that with the expertise and capability of Irish Water and local authority engineers and other staff that we will efficiently deliver capital investments to address wastewater management requirements across the country."
The EPA report noted that half the raw sewage released every day comes from three areas: Arklow, Cobh and Kilmore Quay.
Irish Water said that its €144m investment in the Cork Lower Main Drainage Project will resolve the issues in Cobh by 2021.
Completed works in Ringaskiddy, Passage West and Monkstown mean that 30,000 wheelie bins worth of raw sewage is now being treated before discharge.
Five pumping stations on the northern side of the harbour will now be upgraded, with works due to be completed in 2021, ensuring the wastewater from Cobh, as well as Ringaskiddy, Crosshaven, Carrigaline, Passage West and Monkstown, will all be treated before discharge.
Meanwhile, a major wastewater treatment plant in north Dublin has been approved by An Bord Pleanála, despite significant local opposition.
The Greater Dublin Drainage (GDD) Project will "safeguard the environment and facilitate sustainable growth of new homes and businesses in the region", according to Irish Water.
The project will see an underground pipeline beginning at Blanchardstown that will collect and transfer wastewater, via a new pumping station at Abbotstown, to the facility in Clonshaugh. Irish Water said the treated water will be “safely returned” to the Irish Sea through a 6km marine pipeline from Baldoyle to a point 1km north-east of Ireland’s Eye.
Local opponents to the plan have said they will consider initiating a judicial review in the High Court.
Irish Water intends to have the facility operating in 2026.