EPA: Water quality steadily improving

The Environmental Protection Agency has warned Irish Water it faces a "number of challenges" to provide safe and secure drinking water to the public.

In its annual report, it says water quality has been steadily improving in recent years due to improvements in regulation, monitoring, management and treatment processes. It said overall, water quality compares favourably with that in other European countries.

“Many challenges though still remain to ensure that our good quality waters are adequately protected and poorer quality waters brought up to a good standard,” it said.

“Despite recent progress, the EPA has signalled the need for continued infrastructural investment to bring all drinking water and waste water treatment plants up to acceptable standards.

“The new state utility, Irish Water, will be accountable to the EPA as the environmental regulator. It faces a number of challenges in providing safe and secure drinking water to the public and ensuring waste water discharges do not cause pollution; these include improving the national infrastructure and prioritising the operation and maintenance of treatment plants and collection networks.”

The EPA’s annual report for 2013 found a number of environmental issues which it finds concerning.

Greenhouse gas emission projections, published during 2013, showed the country is at “significant” risk of not meeting its EU 2020 targets “even under the best-case scenario”. Carbon dioxide levels have continued to increase, it said.

In terms of carbon dioxide levels, it said the levels have continued to increase. In 1992 the total was 356.2 parts per million (ppm). By 2009, the last point for which a total is published, it had risen to 388.95ppm. “These observations are replicated at other sites around the world,” the EPA said. “Current atmospheric levels now exceed by far the natural range over the last 650,000 years.”

Another area of concern was high-quality river sites. The EPA found that the percentage of such sites has gone from almost 30% of the total sampled in the 1987-1990 period to less than 17% in 2007-2009.

“Protection of these sites, as required by the Water Framework Directive, poses a significant challenge,” it said.

In terms of municipal solid waste, there was concern that the levels are predicted to rise yet further by 2025 — by as much as 800,000 tonnes.

Launching the report Laura Burke, director general of the EPA, said Ireland’s environment remains generally in a good condition.

“In striving to fulfill our vision of a clean, healthy and well protected environment supporting a sustainable society and economy, the EPA plays a number of roles: environmental regulator, knowledge provider and advocate for the environment. In 2013, we continued to play a significant and active part in protecting and enhancing the environment for all citizens.” She said that, as a regulator, her organisation used the “full range of enforcement tools available” to enforce its licences and permits.

During 2013, it took 10 prosecutions in the District Court with two cases taken through the Director of Public Prosecutions. That netted a total of €68,500 in fines.

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