Catchment News

Deficiencies in Ireland’s waste water treatment – an unacceptable risk to the environment and public health

| in News, Science

The EPA report on Urban Waste Water Treatment in 2016, released today, highlights the need for significant funding to address the legacy of under-investment in infrastructure needed to collect and treat our waste water effectively.  The report finds that treatment is inadequate in many areas.

  • Waste water treatment at 50 of Ireland’s 185 large towns and cities fail to comply with standards set to prevent pollution and protect public health.
  • Sewage from the equivalent of 120,000 people across 44 areas still enters the environment untreated each day.  Plans to install treatment at some of these areas is delayed by up to three years and most will not be completed until 2021.
  • Four bathing water areas were deemed unsafe for swimming due to health risks caused by sewage.

“Waste water from over half our population failed to meet environmental standards.  For many years Ireland failed to address the deficiencies in waste water treatment.  Substantial and sustained investment is now required to protect our valuable waterways and protect public health.” – Gerard O’Leary, Director of the EPA’s Office of Environmental Enforcement

Environmental priorities

Waste water is one of the principal threats to water quality in Ireland.  The EPA identifies the following as the priority areas where resources must be targeted to bring environmental improvements where they are most needed.

  • 50 large towns and cities where waste water treatment failed to meet EU standards. This includes Dublin, which needs a major upgrade of Ringsend treatment plant.
  • 44 areas discharging untreated sewage.  Counties Cork and Donegal account for nearly half of these areas.  Five areas currently discharging untreated waste water are expected to be connected to treatment plants by the end of 2017.  These areas are Youghal, Belmullet, Rush, Bundoran and Killybegs.
  • 59 areas where waste water is the sole threat to rivers, lakes and coastal waters that are at risk of not achieving good status.  Almost one quarter of these are in Counties Donegal and Galway.
  • 4 areas where waste water contributed to poor quality bathing water.  The affected beaches include Merrion Strand and Loughshinny Beach.
  • 12 areas where improvements are needed to protect critically endangered freshwater pearl mussels in rivers such as the Blackwater and the Nore.
  • 3 areas where disinfection of waste water is required to safeguard shellfish habitats.

“Ireland’s environment is at risk because waste water is not treated to the necessary standards, even though the final deadline to meet these standards was 2005.  New or upgraded treatment systems are required in some areas.  In other areas, there is already sufficient treatment capacity in place, but the management of the treatment systems needs to improve.”-Darragh Page, Programme Manager of the EPA’s Office of Environmental Enforcement

The report is now available on the EPA Website.

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.