Personal tools

Notifications
Get notifications on new reports and products. Frequency: 3-4 emails / month.
Subscriptions
Sign up to receive our reports (print and/or electronic) and quarterly e-newsletter.
Follow us
Twitter icon Twitter
Facebook icon Facebook
YouTube icon YouTube channel
RSS logo RSS Feeds
More

Write to us Write to us

For the public:


For media and journalists:

Contact EEA staff
Contact the web team
FAQ

Call us Call us

Reception:

Phone: (+45) 33 36 71 00
Fax: (+45) 33 36 71 99


next
previous
items

Skip to content. | Skip to navigation

Sound and independent information
on the environment

Ireland

Freshwater (Ireland)

Why should we care about this issue

Topic
Freshwater Freshwater
more info
Environmental Protection Agency
Organisation name
Environmental Protection Agency
Reporting country
Ireland
Organisation website
Organisation website
Contact link
Contact link
Last updated
23 Nov 2010
Content license
CC By 2.5
Content provider
Environmental Protection Agency
Published: 26 Nov 2010 Modified: 13 Apr 2011 Feed synced: 23 Nov 2010 original
Key message

Sewage and diffuse agricultural sources continue to be the main threat to the quality of Ireland’s waters. Measures to improve water quality need to be implemented quickly in order to achieve the targets of the Water Framework Directive (WFD).

Introduction

Ireland has an abundant supply of water that is used for drinking water, provides an important habitat for plants and animals, and is an amenity for recreational activities.  Although freshwater is abundant, it is not limitless in quantity, is not evenly distributed across the country, nor everywhere of good quality status.  Nutrient enrichment causing eutrophication is the main threat to Ireland’s aquatic systems.

The state and impacts

Published: 26 Nov 2010 Modified: 13 Apr 2011 Feed synced: 23 Nov 2010 original

Figures

High ecological quality river sites

The percentage number of high quality (Q5 and Q4-5) river sites has almost halved in the last 21 years from almost 30 per cent of the total sampled in the 1987-1990 period to less than 17 per cent in 2006-2008. Protection of these sites, as required by the Water Framework Directive, poses a significant challenge.
Data source
http://www.epa.ie/media/highqualityriversites.csv
High ecological quality river sites
Fullscreen image Original link

River water quality

Forty-nine percent of river water bodies are classified as having good or better ecological status based on the Water Framework Directive Interim Biological Classification for river water quality in 2008.
Data source
http://www.epa.ie/media/riverwaterquality.csv
River water quality
Fullscreen image Original link

Nitrates in groundwater

Elevated nitrate concentration in groundwater is an issue, particularly in the southeast and south of the country. It may contribute to eutrophication of surface waters and affect drinking waters.
Data source
http://www.epa.ie/media/groundwaterquality.csv
Nitrates in groundwater
Fullscreen image Original link

Lake water quality

Of the lakes assessed for Water Framework Directive Interim Biological Status over 55 per cent had at least good status. A total of 271 lakes were assessed with a surface area of 995.5 km2.
Data source
http://www.epa.ie/media/lakequality.csv
Lake water quality
Fullscreen image Original link

State and Impacts

Groundwater

Elevated nitrate concentration in groundwater is an issue, particularly in the southeast and south of the country. It may contribute to eutrophication of surface waters and affect drinking waters. Diffuse agricultural pollution is considered the most significant source.

Elevated groundwater phosphate concentrations, particularly in karst limestone areas such as Galway, Mayo and Roscommon, may be contributing to eutrophication in rivers and lakes.

Rivers

Forty-nine percent of river water bodies are classified as having good or better ecological status, i.e. satisfactory, based on the WFD Interim Biological Classification for river water quality in 2008.  28 per cent of river water bodies are classified as having moderate, 21 per cent poor and 2 per cent bad ecological status.

In the case of nitrate pollution the majority of sites with elevated nitrate concentrations occur in the southeast.  The contrast between the western and eastern rivers is not as immediately apparent for phosphate as nitrate pollution, however half of the surveillance monitoring sites in the South-Eastern River Basin District (SERBD) would not achieve Good Status in 2008 based on phosphate levels.

High Ecological Quality River Sites

High ecological quality at river sites is an indicator of largely undisturbed conditions and reflects the natural background status or only minor distortion by anthropogenic influences. Such sites are used as reference sites from which deviation in quality is measured. These sites play an important part in conserving individual species and overall catchment biodiversity and must be protected under the WFD.   

The percentage number of high quality sites has almost halved in the last 21 years from almost 30 per cent of the total sampled in the 1987-1990 period to less than 17 per cent in 2006-2008. The seven-fold decrease in sites attaining Reference Condition (Q5) is particularly striking.  These sites now comprise less than two per cent of the total surveyed.

Lakes

Of the 271 lakes assessed for WFD Interim Biological Status in 2008, over 55 per cent had at least good status.

Only very modest nitrogen loading was recorded in 2008 for the 75 lakes on the surveillance monitoring programme, and 81 per cent of surveillance lakes sampled in 2008 were of good or better status for phosphorus concentrations.

The key drivers and pressures

Published: 26 Nov 2010 Modified: 13 Apr 2011 Feed synced: 23 Nov 2010 original

Drivers & Pressures

The two main sources of pressure on water quality are from agricultural activities and municipal wastewaters.  These activities can contribute to nutrient enrichment, organic pollution and siltation of water bodies.

Agricultural activities associated with pollution include land spreading of artificial fertilisers and animal manures in unsuitable climatic and ground conditions, silage effluent discharges, farmyard runoff, and watering animals. 

Municipal pollution sources include sewage, waterworks effluent, on-site wastewater treatment systems and diffuse urban inputs. Sewage discharges comprise the main municipal pollution source. Pollution from municipal wastewater treatment plants arises where there is inadequate treatment, combined storm overflows and direct untreated discharges.  In most rural areas the majority of the population uses individual septic tanks that, if poorly sited and/or not properly maintained, can pollute groundwater, surface water and drinking water supplies.

Other activities which may impact on water bodies include forestry, industrial activities, quarrying, dredging, fish farming, bog development, civil works and housing development.

The 2020 outlook

Published: 26 Nov 2010 Modified: 13 Apr 2011 Feed synced: 23 Nov 2010 original

Outlook

Many water bodies will require remedial measures to meet the objectives of the Water Framework Directive (WFD). Protection and restoration of high quality waters will also be a significant challenge.  Eight water management issues have been identified as being of national importance:

  1. Wastewater and industrial discharges
  2. Landfills, quarries, mines and contaminated lands
  3. Agriculture
  4. Waste from unsewered properties
  5. Forestry
  6. Usage and discharge of dangerous substances
  7. Physical modifications to surface waters
  8. Abstractions

Programmes of measures under River Basin Management Plans aim to address these issues as they arise within individual river basin districts. 

The priorities for Government water services investment over the coming years include measures: to improve drinking water conservation (e.g., leakage control); to meet drinking water and wastewater treatment standards and ensure compliance with the WFD; and to meet forecasted increases in demand.

More generally water resources are likely to be impacted by the projected changes in climate over the coming decades. These impacts are expected to include summer water shortages in the east, the need for crop irrigation, potential deterioration in water quality, and an increased likelihood of flooding and coastal erosion.

Existing and planned responses

Published: 26 Nov 2010 Modified: 13 Apr 2011 Feed synced: 23 Nov 2010 original

Figures

Urban Waste Water Treatment

There has been significant investment in water services infrastructure which has resulted in a dramatic improvement in the level of treatment of urban wastewater. 92 per cent of urban wastewaters now receive at least secondary treatment compared to 25 per cent at the start of 2000. However, urban wastewaters still pose a threat to the quality of receiving waters in many areas.
Data source
http://www.epa.ie/media/urbanwastewatertreatment.csv
Urban Waste Water Treatment
Fullscreen image Original link

Responses

Significant investment has gone into improving the water services infrastructure (for drinking water and urban wastewater), with over €4.6 billion invested over the last decade.

This has resulted in a dramatic improvement in the level of treatment of urban wastewater.  92 per cent of urban wastewaters now receive at least secondary treatment compared to 25 per cent at the start of 2000. In addition, a system for EPA licensing or certification of wastewater discharges from areas served by local authority sewer networks was brought into effect in September 2007.  This aims to reduce the input of nutrients and other dangerous substances to receiving waters. 

This investment has also resulted in increased treatment capacity for drinking water by a level equivalent to the needs of a population of 855,000 and storage capacity has increased by a level equivalent to the needs of a population of 1,510,000.

In 2009 the EPA revised its code of practice establishing a framework of best practice in relation to the development of wastewater treatment and disposal systems in unsewered rural areas.

The implementation and enforcement of the Nitrates Action Plan under the EU Nitrates Directive is the most important measure to address diffuse agricultural pollution of freshwaters.

In line with elsewhere in Europe a series of river basin management plans has been developed under the Water Framework Directive. The challenge for water resources management in Ireland will be the successful development and rollout of effective programmes of measures.

Disclaimer

The country assessments are the sole responsibility of the EEA member and cooperating countries supported by the EEA through guidance, translation and editing.

European Environment Agency (EEA)
Kongens Nytorv 6
1050 Copenhagen K
Denmark
Phone: +45 3336 7100