Catchment News

Ireland’s Water Framework Directive regional governance structures – what do they do?

Fran Igoe, Regional Coordinator for the South East and South West Regions with LAWPRO, explains how implementation of Ireland’s River Basin Management Plan is coordinated at local level using regional governance structures.

The protection, conservation and management of water is complex. It involves a wide range of pressures from human activities which means that effectively all stakeholders need to be involved. River Basin Management Plans set out how we go about protecting and restoring water quality necessary to meet the objectives of the Water Framework Directive (WFD). But to action the programme of measures required, there needs to be a structure that can allow for this to happen; from the local level right up to the national level.

  • At the local level, this will often involve on the ground physical actions, changes in management patterns, awareness and education. All of this leading to behaviour change by the relevant stakeholders where needed
  • At the national level the changes may involve sectoral plans, cooperation between government departments and industry, and changes in policy direction
  • In between the top-down and the bottom-up approach there also needs to be linkages between both

Recognising this, new Water Framework Directive governance structures were established under the 2nd Cycle River Basin Management Plan for 2028-2021. This included the establishment of five regional committees, where public bodies who implement the WFD could meet and plan actions in a collaborative process.

Governance and co-ordination structures for implementation of the second cycle RBMP (modified from RBMP 2018-2021).

During the public consultations for the 2nd Cycle River Basin Management Plan, a recurring theme across the country at the 123 public meetings held, was a perception by the public that there are too many different agencies dealing with water in Ireland and that there is a lack of a joined up approach to river basin management. These structures aim to address some of these issues as well as introduce a more effective approach to addressing issues as they arise.

Regional Local Authority Structures

There are five local authority regional committees, known as Water and Environment Management Committees. Each one is supported by the Local Authority Waters Programme (LAWPRO) and they have responsibility for the co-ordinated delivery of measures at the regional and local level and to ensure a consistency of approach across the regions.

The five regional committees are chaired at Chief Executive level, with active participation and technical advice from the EPA.

Regional Operational Committees

Each of the regional committees is supported by an Operational Committee with membership drawn from the relevant Local Authorities and 29 different implementing bodies (including cross border) and chaired at Director of Service level.

Representation from sectoral areas such as Agriculture, Forestry, Fisheries, Aquaculture and shellfish production, food safety, Nature Conservation, Heritage, water supply and of course water protection and regulation attend – basically implementing bodies with an interest in ensuring good water quality from source (i.e., freshwater) to sea (i.e., marine) attend.

Technical issues or barriers that cannot be addressed at the regional level are referred to the National Technical Implementation Group (NTIG). NTIG oversees technical implementation of the RBMP at a national level and provides a forum to ensure co-ordinated actions among all relevant State actors. Policy issues are referred via the National Coordination Advisory Committee and onto the Water Policy Advisory Committee if necessary.

Five regional operational committees established – how attendees are encouraged
to engage.

Examples of issues discussed at Regional Operational Committees

  • WFD Characterisation
  • RBMP & Significant Water Management Issues public consultation & feedback
  • LAWPRO & ASSAP updates
  • Implementing body updates
  • Intensification of Agriculture
  • Marine issues
  • Hydromorphology, land drainage, local drainage districts
  • Planning/Blue Dots/Nature-based SuDS
  • County Development Plans
  • Forestry licensing and management issues
  • Community engagement & funding
  • Biosecurity (crayfish plague), Blue/Greenways
  • Projects – e.g., water relevant European Innovation Projects, LEADER, Catchment CARE, Freshwater Pearl Mussel captive breeding project on the Portlaw Clodiagh, Community Water Development Fund Projects, Citizen science

Examples of issues raised to National Technical Implementation Group

  • Pesticides
  • Sheep dip
  • Movement of manures
  • Norovirus
  • Marine issues

These committees are important for a number of reasons. They allow for a coordinated approach to bringing the Water Framework Directive to the relevant public bodies in fora where there is collective learning and knowledge sharing. LAWPRO and the Agricultural Sustainability Support and Advisory Service bring updates in the Areas prioritised for Action and outline progress (including for high status or Blue Dot waterbodies). The fora have allowed for the incorporation of local expertise together with scientific evidence to select Areas for Action going into the 3rd RBMP (2022-2027) during the latest characterisation process.

Issues on the ground are raised and discussed, actioned where possible at the local level. Where the issue is significant and needs to be actioned at a higher level, then this can be referred up through the governance structures as described above. A key benefit of these committees is the collective discussions, problem solving and provision of context to issues from the various sector perspectives. Going forward climate is also an issue that will need to be taken into account.

Fran Igoe, Regional Coordinator, Local Authority Waters Programme

Learn more:

Minutes from the Water Policy Advisory Committee: en/collection/ebebd-water-policy-advisory-committee-meetings

Documents from the Regional Management and Operational Committees:

Minutes from the National Technical Implementation Group:

The EPA-IPA Research Programme on Ireland’s water governance arrangements resulted in two reports being published:

Field trip organised after one of the regional operational committee meetings in the South East to visit wetlands constructed by Waterford County Council to address leachate from a municipal landfill in Dungarvan and examine their relevance to other sectors for addressing water quality and promoting biodiversity. This was covered in local media.

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.