Catchment News

WaterMARKE: mitigating agricultural impacts through research and knowledge exchange

The WaterMARKE project will develop operational guidelines for farmers, advisors and policy makers for the successful implementation of water quality risk assessment measures at farm scale and will identify win-win measures where economic and environmental outcomes do not come into conflict, with water quality improved on farms at the lowest cost.

With an increasing global population driving demands for increased food production, agriculture faces the ‘Grand Challenge’ of sustainably increasing productivity while also continuing to protect the environment. The ‘sustainable intensification’ of agriculture offers potential not just to support enhanced farm viability, but to do so in a more holistic way, bringing economic and environmental benefits. However, despite recent policy developments working to protect water quality, surface and ground water quality remains an environmental concern for agriculture. For example, measures have been to optimise the use of nutrients such as phosphorus and nitrogen on farms, reducing the risk of loss of nutrients to water. But while surface water quality had stabilised for a large number of years, it has begun to decline again recently. Therefore, measures are needed to improve water quality where it is unsatisfactory.

The WaterMARKE project emerges in this context in response to the need for evidence-based tools to help ensure that intensification of agriculture is sustainable and protect water quality. It also recognises the complexity of achieving good water quality as part of sustainable agriculture, which is reflected in the project activities and the expertise it brings together.

The project is jointly funded by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Research Programme 2014-2020 and Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM). Working closely with the Agricultural Sustainability Support Advisers (ASSAP) who are providing advice and support to farms in areas where there are water quality issues, the WaterMARKE project team aims to develop tools for water quality risk assessment and appropriate water quality protection measures.

WaterMARKE partners from Teagasc, NUI Galway, UCD, Agricultural Catchments Programme (ACP), Environment Knowledge Transfer, Local Authority Waters Programme (LAWPRO), National Rural Network (NRN), Scottish Rural College and includes biophysical scientists, economists, behavioural psychologists, extension specialists and international law expertise.

The project will develop operational guidelines for farmers, advisors and policy makers for the successful implementation of water quality risk assessment measures at farm scale. An underpinning objective is to identify ‘win-win’ measures where economic (e.g. farm incomes) and environmental (e.g. improved water quality) outcomes do not come into conflict, with water quality improved on farms at the lowest cost. It will:

  • Develop a farm-scale risk assessment to select measures for water quality protection
  • Identify barriers to adoption of water quality protection measures
  • Using the ‘right measure, right place, right time’ approach to design a knowledge exchange template for water quality protection measures
  • Evaluate options to scale up the implementation of water quality protection measures beyond the pilot case study farms
  • At a national scale, the project examines the roles and interactions of all the actors (institutions) involved in the agrifood production value chain, to examine how the information flows and the structure of future programmes could be improved to facilitate further sustainable development and intensification of Irish agriculture

Learn more:
Twitter: @WaterMARKE

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.