Pollution from agriculture one of top challenges to water quality

Pollution from agriculture and wastewater discharge remain the greatest challenges to the water quality of Ireland’s rivers, lakes, estuaries, beaches and groundwaters, according to a new report.

The Environmental Protection Agency’s Water Indicators’ Report — the first of its kind in a decade — evaluates the water quality across 16 indicators that measure the levels of nutrient pollution in waters, fish kills and other benchmarks.

While noting a positive decline in nutrient pollution and a reduction in serious pollution events that result in fish kills, the report warns that nutrient pollution is still an issue in some areas .

“We still have issues with water quality and a substantial number of our rivers, lakes and estuaries are not as healthy as they should be.

A significant proportion of sites still have too much nutrients. A quarter of rivers and lakes and just under a third of estuaries and coastal waters are failing their environmental quality standard or assessment criteria,” the report states.

The EPA also said that the proportion of high-quality sites has almost halved since the late 1980s.

“Even more worrying is the dramatic reduction in pristine river sites, which have fallen from 584 to only 23 sites over the same period. Substantial efforts will be required to ensure that further loss of these sites can be halted and where possible reversed,” it said.

The EPA said it now intends to publish this report annually, with the intention that its indicators will help track progress with the implementation of the recent National River Basin Management Plan 2018-2021.

Commenting on the report, Dr Matt Crowe, director of the EPA’s office of evidence and assessment, said we all have a connection to water, be it our local beach, river, lake or the well that supplies our family and our animals with drinking water.

Making sure that these waters are clean and well protected is critically important to our health and our wellbeing. Water also supports many important economic activities such as agriculture, manufacturing and tourism. These indicators help us track progress in protecting and improving this vital national asset,” said Dr Crowe.

Andy Fanning, the programme manager, EPA office of evidence and assessment, said pollution caused by excess nutrients entering waters remains “a key challenge”.

“These nutrients come predominantly from our farms, towns and villages. The commitments and actions identified in the recent National River Basin Management Plan 2018-2021 must now be implemented to halt deterioration of water quality and to make the necessary improvements where needed.

“This will require collaboration across a wide range of stakeholders. By doing this, the right action can be taken in the right place by the right people and organisations to improve and enhance our waters for all.”

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