A new report reveals that nutrient concentrations in Ireland’s waters are too high and the trends are going in the wrong direction. In fact, over one-third of rivers, and a quarter of lakes do not meet environmental quality standards for nutrients, informs the Irish Times.
Yesterday the Irish Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released the Water Quality Indicators Report 2019. It provides an update on biological quality and nutrient concentrations in water bodies. The information is collected under the Water Framework Directive (WFD). The main problem is excess nutrients such as phosphorous and nitrogen, which come mainly from agricultural sources and urban wastewater. High concentrations of these nutrients fuel the growth of aquatic flora which can deplete dissolved oxygen and harm ecosystems.
Upward trends in nitrate concentrations have been found in almost half of the river sites and almost half of the groundwater sites monitored. Phosphate levels are also increasing in a quarter of river sites. If the issue is not addressed, estuaries and coastal waters, which are currently in good condition for the most part, will suffer the impact, as nutrient loads to marine waters are also increasing.
There are also some encouraging improvements in biological quality: rivers have shown more improvements than declines overall according to 2019 monitoring data. The report, however, cautions that further action is required to return waters to a satisfactory condition, and, unless addressed, upward trends in nutrient concentrations will reverse any positive signs.
Mary Gurrie, Programme Manager at the EPA said high nutrient levels cause difficulties with drinking water standards in some areas and called for urgent action to reduce inputs from agriculture, targeted at source areas. Implementation of the approach outlined in Ireland’s River Basin Management Plan across all sectors – particularly agriculture and urban wastewater – is critical to improve water quality and achieve a good ecological status of water bodies by 2027, as per WFD requirements.
Concerning urban wastewater, a recent EPA report called for critical improvements to water infrastructure in order to prevent pollution by wastewater discharges and asked Irish Water, the national water and wastewater utility, to address existing project delays and uncertainty. Irish Water claims it has made significant progress concerning the delivery of wastewater infrastructure. In relation to its water supply responsibilities, earlier this month the utility published the first phase of its National Water Resources Plan for consultation. It identifies options to deliver a safe and sustainable water supply while safeguarding the environment.