The number of high-quality rivers has halved in the last 30 years and this is cause for “very significant concern”, says the Environmental Protection Agency in its report.
“There has been a gradual decline in high-status river sites across Ireland.
“Numbers halved in the 22-year period between 1987 and 2015 with the most dramatic losses occurring in the highest quality sites.
“These sites represent the best-quality rivers across Ireland, and therefore their continuing loss is a very significant concern,” reads the EPA report.
This development has been described by the agency as a “critical issue for Ireland in the next decade”.
There are 70,000km of river channel in Ireland.
The issue relates specifically to the loss of “high-quality river sites” as opposed to lengths of river channels suffering from pollution.
In the most recent monitoring period between 2013 and 2015, only 21 sites were classified as the highest quality rivers (0.7% of sites) compared with 575 between 1987 and 1990 and 82 between 2001 and 2003.
“This is an area where substantial effort is required to protect the few remaining highest quality rivers and, where feasible, return impacted ones back to their earlier extremely high quality,” warns the report.
Aside from the loss of high-quality rivers here, another challenge is the concentration of some nutrients in the water supply.
“Elevated nutrient concentrations (phosphorus and nitrogen) continue to be the most widespread water quality problem in Ireland, arising primarily from human activities such as agriculture and waste water discharges to water from human settlements, including towns, villages and rural houses,” reads the report.
Furthermore, the treatment of sewage and industrial waste water (discharged to sewers) continues to be one of the principal pressures on water quality in Ireland. In 2015, the number of raw sewage discharges were from 43 separate locations.
One further issue is marine litter which can be things such as sewage related litter, microbeads from personal care products, litter dropped at the beach, lost shipping containers and poorly managed industrial waste discharges.
The EPA said that from a survey conducted in 2015, over 16 beach surveys showed no improvement in litter levels over previous years.
On a positive note, reported fish kills have declined to an all-time low of 70 between 2010 and 2012.
And water quality in canals remains very high, with over 90% of canals rated satisfactory in 2012.
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