The overarching aim of the Water Framework Directive is to…
Developing the next River Basin Management Plan: a collaborative approach involving communities, stakeholders and public bodies
A River Basin Management Plan (RBMP) requires a clear understanding of what is happening in the rivers, lakes, groundwater, estuaries and beaches of the river basin district in question. The next Plan for Ireland will cover the entire country and set out plans and objectives for a four-year period of 2018 – 2021.
Under Article 14 of the EU Water Framework Directive (WFD) Member States are required ‘to encourage the active involvement of all interested parties in the production, review and updating of river basin management plans’, in six year cycles up to 2027. Such participation in Ireland is evident through the involvement of local communities and public agencies in the development of the current River Basin Management Plan for Ireland 2018 – 2021.
The draft Plan for Ireland was open for public consultation from February to August 2017. During that time, the Local Authority Waters and Communities Office (LAWCO) organised a total of 123 public meetings across the entire country to raise awareness about the draft plan and to encourage local communities to have their say on matters concerning their local waters and to make submissions on the draft Plan.
In total 956 local submissions were received covering a broad range of issues and interests. These submissions have been collated to assist the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government in the development of the pending Plan, due to be published early 2018. Any issues raised at these public meetings that can be addressed at a local level will be referred to the relevant Local Authority and public agency for follow up.
Preamble parts 1 & 14 of the Water Framework Directive Waters in the Community are under increasing pressure from the continuous growth in demand for sufficient quantities of good quality water for all purposes…confirming the need for action to protect Community waters in qualitative as well as in quantitative terms. The success of this Directive relies on close cooperation and coherent action at Community, Member State and local level as well as on information, consultation and involvement of the public, including users.
A significant part in the process of developing river basin management plans is to understand the pressures impacting on all waterbodies so that specific measures can be identified and implemented to manage those pressures, i.e. ‘the right measure in the right place’. The catchment characterisation process undertaken since 2015 by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) with the assistance of the Local Authorities and Inland Fisheries Ireland (IFI), amongst others, assessed the risk of a particular waterbody not meeting the objectives of the Water Framework Directive, and identified the Significant pressures that need to be addressed.
During the second half of 2017 the EPA and the Waters and Communities Office facilitated catchment assessment workshops in each of the five Water and Environment Management Regions (Border, Midlands & East, West, South East & South West). At these workshops, discussions took place on the nature of the pressures impacting on individual waterbodies, and the feasibility of restoring impacted waterboides. Staff from over 30 public bodies and organisations shared detailed scientific and technical knowledge on each catchment in the region. Attendees included staff from the following organisations: Local Authorities (staff and senior management); Local Authority Waters and Communities Office; Irish Water; Inland Fisheries Ireland; Forestry Service; Coillte; National Parks and Wildlife Service; Teagasc; Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government; Geological Survey of Ireland; National Federation of Group Water Schemes; Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine; Marine Institute; Bord Iascaigh Mhara; Sea Fisheries Protection Authority; Waterways Ireland; ESB; Loughs Agency; LIFE project staff and local development companies.
These regional workshops provided a forum for public bodies and agencies to review and discuss the available information on each catchment, and input from their own areas of expertise, thus allowing for the capture of expert local knowledge to assist with the scientific basis for prioritising ‘Areas for Action’ on specific waterbodies. The reason for creating a priority list is to focus available resources during 2018-2021 for the 2nd cycle River Basin Management Plan.
At a local level, the recommended ‘Areas for Action’ in each county were presented to the elected members of Local Authorities, and put on public display. This provided an opportunity for feedback where it was felt that other areas should be prioritised over the period 2018 – 2021. All submissions received are reviewed in the first instance by Local Authority staff, and then brought forward to the Regional Operational Committees, where any amendments to the list of priority areas for action are considered. The aim is to ensure that River Basin Management Plan objectives are met, whilst also delivering maximum potential benefits to society.
The final list of priority ‘Areas for Action’ will then be brought forward to each of the five Regional Water and Environment Committees for approval. These regional committees are made up of Senior Management from the respective Local Authorities, the EPA and the Local Authority Waters and Communities Office, who provide a shared service across the five regions. It has been identified that additional resources will be required to focus on these ‘Areas for Action’ to support the ongoing activities of Local Authorities, public bodies and local communities. Recruitment is now underway for 35 scientific staff who will be based across the five regions. These staff will work on specific work programmes targeting the priority areas for action.
The River Basin Management Plan for Ireland 2018 – 2021 will be published in early 2018, and will include details of the significant pressures affecting our natural waters, along with a Programme of Measures to tackle those pressures. The development of this Plan for the 2nd Cycle of the Water Framework Directive has involved a robust scientific assessment process, participation by local communities, expert input from public agencies, and a submission from a broad range of stakeholders through the National Water Forum / An Fóram Uisce. Prior to this, in 2015 a public consultation on the ‘Significant Water Management Issues in Ireland’ was completed. In this way, scientific, technical and local information has been gathered and assessed to create a better understanding of the pressures on our rivers, lakes, estuaries, groundwater and coastal waters, whilst also highlighting the value local communities place on a healthy water environment.
Alan Walsh, Local Authority Waters and Communities Office watersandcommunities.ie/areas-for-action