Ireland has failed to meet a planned national target of 13% improvement in water status and has failed to prevent deterioration of water status overall at hundreds of water bodies, despite improvement at some locations. 

Maam River

The Maam river feeds into Lough Corrib, Co Galway 

These finding and more are revealed in the Environmental Protection Agency’s National Assessment of Water Quality in Ireland covering 2010-2015 — the first six-year assessment on the status of Ireland’s waters, under the Water Framework Directive.

The report however notes ongoing reduction in the level of ‘seriously polluted waters’ — six river bodies are categorised ‘bad’ compared to 19 in 2007-2009; however only 21 sites achieved the highest quality rating ‘pristine condition’ from 2013-2015 compared to over 500 sites in the late 1980s.

Dr Matt Crowe, Director of the EPA’s Office of Evidence and Assessment, said clean and well-protected water is a key national asset supporting many important economic activities such as agriculture, manufacturing and tourism.

“We must do a lot more and work much harder at protecting this vital national asset. We now need to put the necessary measures and resources in place to arrest any further deterioration of water status and to make necessary improvements.

“Decisions about what we do and who should do it and pay for it need to be based on scientific evidence and requires constructive engagement and 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.”

Overall, 91% of groundwater bodies; 57% of rivers; 46% of lakes; 31% of estuaries and 79% of coastal waters are ‘good quality’ under the WFD, which requires this status for all water bodies, except in ‘exceptional circumstances’.

The report notes declines of 1% and 2.6% respectfully in high or good ecological status/potential of monitored river and lake water bodies, and little net change in the quality of monitored transitional water bodies since 2007-2009, with 69% of these waters classified as ‘moderate’ or ‘worse status’ during 2010-2015.

Groundwater remains ‘good’ with 99% of the groundwater underlying the country’s area at ‘good status’ (91% of groundwater bodies); the quality of water in canals remains ‘very high’.

Reported fish kills increased during 2013-2015 to 97, an increase of 27 reported during 2007-2009.

The EPA is assessing the pressures that are contributing to waters being in unsatisfactory condition or at risk of deteriorating. Initial outcomes were included in the draft River Basin Management Plan and provide the scientific basis for measures that will be prioritised in the final River Basin Management Plan due for publication at the end of 2017.