Catchment News

Failure to treat waste water properly is damaging our rivers and coastal waters

| in 2nd Cycle 2016-2021, News


  • Waste water treatment at 28 of Ireland’s 179 large towns and cities failed to meet standards set to prevent pollution and protect public health.
  • Waste water from 57 areas caused significant impacts on our rivers, lakes and coastal waters.
  • Discharges of raw sewage from six urban areas have ceased.  However, raw sewage from the equivalent of 88,000 people in 38 towns and villages is still flowing into the environment today.

Though we have seen some improvements, Ireland is not investing quickly enough to provide the infrastructure needed to treat our waste water, highlights the EPA report on Urban Waste Water Treatment in 2017, released on 23 October 2018.  Deficiencies exist in many treatment plants and public sewers, due to a legacy of under-investment, and waste water is still entering the environment without receiving sufficient treatment.

Commenting on the report Dr Tom Ryan, Director of the EPA’s Office of Environmental Enforcement said,

“Ireland is not addressing the deficiencies in its waste water treatment infrastructure at a fast-enough pace.  It is unacceptable that, 13 years after the final deadline to comply with treatment standards, there are still 28 large towns and cities discharging inadequately treated sewage that fails to meet these standards.  This is putting our health at risk and is having an impact on our rivers, lakes and coastal waters.”

Environmental priorities

It is not possible to fix all the issues with Ireland’s waste water treatment systems in the short term and a long-term strategy is required to address the shortcomings.  It is therefore essential that the resources that are available are targeted efficiently in the right areas to deliver improvements where they are most needed.  The EPA identifies the following as the priority areas for improvements.

  • 28 large towns and cities where waste water treatment failed to meet mandatory standards.  These account for over half of the sewage collected in our public sewers.  The final deadline to comply with the standards was 2005 and Ireland is before the EU Court of Justice for breaching these requirements.  See Figure 1 below.
  • 38 towns and villages discharging raw sewage.  The EPA has prosecuted Irish Water for delays in providing treatment plants at six of these areas. See Figure 2 below.
  • 57 areas where waste water discharges are the sole environmental threat to rivers, lakes and coastal waters at risk of pollution.
  • Areas where upgrade works are needed to protect 4 beaches with poor quality bathing water.  The affected beaches are Merrion Strand, Clifden, Loughshinny and Sandymount Strand.
  • 15 areas where improvements are needed to protect critically endangered freshwater pearl mussels or to safeguard shellfish habitats.
  • 13 priority waste water collection networks (sewers) that need to be upgraded.

Mr Darragh Page, Programme Manager of the EPA’s Office of Environmental Enforcement said,

“Investment in waste water infrastructure has brought environmental benefits in 2017, and we welcome the elimination of discharges of raw sewage from the equivalent of over 50,000 people.  However, a substantial increase in the rate of investment is necessary to provide the infrastructure needed to treat our waste water.  Irish Water also needs to improve its understanding of the condition and performance of sewers, to help focus sewer upgrade works where they are most urgently needed.”

Find out more:

The report is now available on the EPA Website.

You can check out this interactive map on the EPA website to find out more about sewage treatment in your area.

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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.