While the restrictions imposed by the pandemic led many Irish to rediscover the country’s water resources, many found some of the consequences of poor wastewater management, such as wet wipes released by sewage overflows or bathing restrictions, reports the Irish Times.
The view of the Irish Times is that Irish water, the national water utility responsible for the provision of water and wastewater services across Ireland since 2013, is failing on its basic obligations, and points to Ireland’s Environment Protection Agency latest report on Urban Waste Water Treatment, released earlier this month.
The EPA report highlights that “Delays and uncertainty in Irish Water’s delivery of critical improvements to infrastructure are prolonging risks to the environment and public health.” Waste water treatment obligations were enshrined in EU and Irish law more than 25 years ago, but in 2019, treatment at 19 of 172 large urban areas failed the mandatory EU treatment standards. They include Dublin and Cork, and generate more than half of Ireland’s sewage.
The Ringsend treatment plant in Dublin, which processes about 44% of the country’s wastewater load, does not have the capacity to treat all the sewage it receives and is the largest contributor to non compliance of EU standards. Upgrades are underway, including the largest pumping station in the country, and will be completed by 2025.
Meanwhile, Irish Water claims significant progress has been made in the delivery of critical wastewater projects around the country, while a portfolio of key projects are at construction and planning phases. It invested €308 m in wastewater in 2019, and expects wastewater infrastructure investment to increase to almost €400 m in 2020.
The Managing Director of Irish Water Niall Gleeson has acknowledged that “Progress across a portfolio of projects has been slower than anticipated as we deal with an unprecedented level of statutory and planning issues.” When it took charge of water and wastewater services from local authorities, the national utility inherited problems with some projects. But delayed timelines are a concern that undermines trust in its capacity to address risks to public and environmental health.
“Ensuring that everywhere in Ireland has public infrastructure for adequately treating wastewater is one of the key aims of Irish Water. This has to be balanced against the rights of communities and landowners to be adequately consulted before wastewater treatment infrastructure is installed or expanded,” explained Gleeson, citing a process that requires detailed consultation and environmental research together with modelling and resources. In fact, he described delivering the critical wastewater infrastructure as a challenge that needs investment and engagement, and will take years to address in full.
The Irish Times proposes a new approach to overcome planning difficulties that includes the deployment of the best technological solutions, together with rainwater harvesting and attenuation in buildings, to address the deficit in infrastructure.