Catchment News

CSO: report on indicators for Sustainable Development Goal 6 – clean water and sanitation

The Central Statistics Office (CSO) has today (18 March 2021) published Ireland’s UN SDGs 2019 – Report on Indicators for Goal 6 Clean Water and Sanitation. This report is the sixth in a series of CSO publications which will monitor how Ireland is progressing towards meeting its targets under the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). 

Drinking water is generally safely managed but gaps remain in waste water treatment.

  • There was universal access to safely managed drinking water and sewerage facilities at the time of the last Census
  • Almost all the urban waste water collected in Ireland’s public sewers is treated (99%)
  • Treatment at 19 of Ireland’s 172 large towns and cities, including Dublin and Cork, failed to meet EU standards set to prevent pollution
  • By mid-2020 there were 35 towns and villages continuing to release untreated waste water (raw sewage) into our waters
  • Good ambient water quality was found in 53% of Irish rivers, 50.5% of lakes and 92% of groundwater according to the ‘Water Quality in Ireland 2013-2018’ report
  • Ireland contributed €2.55 million in Official Development Assistance (ODA) to improve water and sanitation services in developing countries in 2019

“Goal 6 Clean Water and Sanitation reports data for Ireland in 11 Indicators divided into three main chapters: Clean and Safe Water, Water Management and Water Policies. Data is disaggregated in categories such as gender, age group, vulnerable groups and geographical location, where possible. The SDGs and their associated indicators are, by design, wide-ranging in their coverage. As a result, the Irish data is provided from a number of sources in addition to Government Departments, official organisations, and international organisations such as the UN. This publication was developed in collaboration with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).”

Kevin McCormack, CSO Senior Statistician

The 17 UN SDGs are a set of global development targets adopted by the United Nations (UN) member countries in September 2015 to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all. The UN SDGs are driving the global development agenda towards 2030 (Agenda 2030). They address global challenges including those related to poverty, inequality, climate change, environmental degradation, peace and justice. The CSO has a central role in the identification, management, and presentation of the data needed to meet the requirements of the UN SDG Indicators.

Commenting further on the publication, Kevin McCormack, CSO Senior Statistician, said:

“According to the 2016 Census, 99.9% of Irish households had a piped water supply and access to a sewerage facility.  Public mains connection accounted for 77% of household supply, group water schemes represented 8%, private water schemes accounted for 10% of households with the remaining 4% not stated.

The EPA report ‘Urban Waste Water Treatment in 2019’ states that large urban areas collectively generate 92% of Ireland’s urban waste water. More than half of all the urban waste water collected in Ireland’s public sewers is generated in 19 areas that failed to meet mandatory EU standards in 2019. The number of areas that failed the standards has decreased however from 28 to 19 in the last two years. The main factor in Ireland’s poor compliance overall is the failure at Ringsend in Dublin, which treats almost half of the country’s urban waste water.  

By mid-2020, untreated waste water (raw sewage) was still being released into our waters every day from 35 towns and villages. Most waste water is treated at plants designed to provide secondary treatment (67.2%) or secondary treatment with nutrient removal (30.4%). A small amount (1%) is conveyed to plants that provide a more basic form of treatment, known as primary treatment. The remainder (1.4%) is collected and discharged directly into the water environment without any treatment.

Good ambient water quality (‘Good’ or ‘High’ status based on the 2013-2018 Water Framework Directive assessment) was recorded in 59% of water bodies in Ireland. The proportion of rivers with good ambient water quality was 53%, while 50% of lakes and 92% of ground water bodies had a good ambient water quality. The main problem damaging our waters is the presence of too many nutrients such as phosphorus and nitrogen which come primarily from agriculture and waste water.  

In 2019, €2.55 million was spent on water and sanitation for developing countries from Ireland’s Official Development Assistance (ODA) budget of €705.6 million, almost 1% of Ireland’s total ODA budget.”

Learn more:

Read the report: Ireland’s UN SDGs 2019 – Report on Indicators for Goal 6 Clean Water and Sanitation

Editor’s Note:

The CSO, Ordnance Survey Ireland (OSi) and Environment Systems Research Institute (Esri-Ireland) established a project team in April 2017 to engage with a combined UN Statistics Division (UNSD)/Esri research exercise, with a goal to develop and deploy a new approach for monitoring the UN SDG Indicators, using geographic information systems. The result of this exercise is an SDG website (Ireland’s SDGs Data Hub,, hosted on OSi’s Geohive platform, which is Ireland’s Central Portal for all SDGs and contains indicators data on the 17 UN SDGs for Ireland. All the indicators in this publication will be loaded onto the Geohive.

Who is involved?

Quite simply, everyone in Ireland has a role to play. This can be from something as simple as making sure you don’t pollute your local stream, or a local community working together to establish a Rivers Trust to enhance the rivers and lakes in their area, to a Government Department or Agency helping a Minister implement a new policy to help protect and enhance all our water bodies.

This website has been developed and is maintained by the Environmental Protection Agency, and is a collaboration between the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Local Authority Waters Programme.


Local Authority Waters Programme

The Local Authority Waters Programme coordinates the efforts of local authorities and other public bodies in the implementation of the River Basin Management Plan, and supports local community and stakeholder involvement in managing our natural waters, for everyone’s benefit.


Environmental Protection Agency

The EPA is responsible for coordinating the monitoring, assessment and reporting on the status of our 4,842 water bodies, looking at trends and changes, determining which waterbodies are at risk and what could be causing this, and drafting environmental objectives for each.


Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage

The Department is responsible for making sure that the right policies, regulations and resources are in place to implement the Water Framework Directive, and developing a River Basin Management Plan and Programme of Measures to protect and restore our waters.