Government Plan Lacks Ambition To Fix Lakes And Rivers – Environmental Groups

The overdue River Basin Management Plan, launched by the Minister Eoghan Murphy, falls far short of what is needed to protect our rivers, lakes and bays and to bring them up to a healthy standard, according to the Sustainable Water Network of national and local environemntal groups. Despite the best efforts of a team of officials and scientists based in the EPA and the Department of Housing, Planning & Local Government, and the Local Authority Community and Water Office (LAWCO), the Plan lacks the political will needed to support Ireland’s claims to be a ‘green’ tourist destination and threatens its capability to become a truly environmentally-friendly food producer through such programmes as ‘Origin Green’.

The legal requirement under the EU Water Framework Directive, in place since 2000, is to introduce new measures to bring our rivers, lakes and bays up to a good ecological state by 2021 (with some exemptions until 2027). However this obligation has been under-resourced to the extent that half (52%) of Ireland’s rivers and lakes are failing to achieve the ‘good status’ required by the Directive; this latest Plan is sadly consistent with Ireland’s lack of ambition to date, proposing to fix only a small fraction (12%) of these.

Our water environment is the final recipient of many of the by-products of human activities, some are well-treated, but many are not and pose a threat to human and environmental health. Discharge of raw and inadequately treated sewage; spreading of slurry, fertiliser and pesticides on farmland; unsuitable coniferous forestry, drainage of peatland and wetlands and faulty septic tanks, have all been identified as posing a threat to our water environment. The Plan being launched today falls far short of the significant changes needed to adequately address these persistent shortcomings.

Sinead O’Brien, Coordinator of the Sustainable Water Network (SWAN) said:

“This Plan lacks ambition and is an exercise in doing the best you can to stem pollution whilst imposing no significant obligations for change on any of the sectors responsible.”

She went on:

“Far more state investment is urgently needed to end the discharge of raw and poorly treated sewage into our rivers and bays. Also, grant-aid to farmers must shift so as to support farming that prevents water pollution, protects the rural landscape and contributes to sustainable flood management, rather than encouraging an intensification programme not yet proven to be sustainable.”

Given its low targets for water quality improvements, which are clearly not in line with legislation, the River Basin Management Plan not only exposes the Irish State to the risk of daily fines from the EU but it means that communities miss out on the enormous benefits of a clean and healthy water environment for recreation, tourism, business, nature and, of course, for simple enjoyment.

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