The EPA Water Quality Report 2016-2021 was published today, which indicated what the EPA described as an ‘alarming’ decline in the quality of our estuarine and coastal waters and a continuing overall decline in water quality. While the report shows that water quality is going in the wrong direction it also provides the information needed to reverse this damaging trend over the coming years.
The report states:
- 63% of waterbodies are impacted by agricultural activities (30% increase)
- 24% are impacted by drainage, channelisation and barriers (30% increase due to better information)
- 14% are impacted by forestry activities (no change)
- 13% are impacted by urban wastewater and storm waters (improvements occurred)
- 12% are impacted by urban runoff (no change)
During this monitoring period 2016-2021 the number of waterbodies impacted by agriculture has increased by nearly 30%. Loss of excess nutrients, from fertilisers and manures to waterways is the main issue. Nitrogen losses associated with free draining soils in the south and southeast is causing declines in estuary and coastal water quality. Measures to reduce nitrogen leaching are needed in these areas. Excess phosphorus and sediment are important stressors for rivers and lakes and are more typically associated with the poorly draining soils which are located nationwide. Pathway interception measures that interrupt the connections between the land and watercourses, such as buffer zones, are needed in these areas.
Hydromorphology activities damage the physical habitat conditions by clogging fish spawning beds with sediment and affecting the flow of water in a river. The impact of hydromorphology has increased by 30% but this might be due to better information, better practices is needed along with a national river restoration programme.
The evidence shows that water quality declines caused by forestry activities such as planting, thinning and clear-felling have seen little change in the level of impacts since the last monitoring period. More needs to be done to reduce these impacts.
Discharges from urban wastewater treatment plants or storm water overflows are the most common water quality problems associated with urban wastewater. Elevated concentrations of phosphorus, ammonium and nitrogen impact on the ecology of surface waters, while elevated concentrations of bacteria and pathogens impact bathing waters and shellfish waters. There has been a net decrease in the number of water bodies impacted by urban wastewater but more investment is needed to address treatment deficits.
In Priority Areas for Action (PAAs), where targeted action is taking place, the trend is a net overall improvement. This indicates that when targeted action is taken improvements in water quality can be achieved.
The Water Forum would like to see these approaches taken in all water bodies at risk from agriculture and more targeted actions implemented nationally to protect current status to prevent any deteriorations.
The EPA Report is available at:
Monitoring & Assessment: Freshwater & Marine Publications | Environmental Protection Agency (epa.ie)
Water Forum Press Release