The Eco Eye programme aired on RTE on Monday last explored building resilience in Ireland’s water supply. Despite having lots of freshwater resources many areas of the country experienced water restrictions and pressure reductions after dry spells in recent years. The most extensive of these were 2 national hosepipe bans, one in 2018 and again in 2020.
The freshwater available in our lakes and rivers is not the same as tap water, drinking water needs to be taken from the source to a water treatment plant and treated to remove contaminants (sediment, plant fragments, pathogens etc) and then piped to our homes. This processes is costly and needs significant ongoing investment to build treatment plants, maintain pipes and manage distribution to meet ever increasing needs and demands.
Ireland has two main challenges in providing a resilient supply of water across the country: 1) the demand is highest where the supply is least and 2) half of our surface water sources are polluted. How can these be addressed? The highest demand for water is in the most densely populated and industrialised region of the country, the east and south-east. Adding to the demand this is also where the least rain falls. So, the option that is currently being considered to address this need is the transfer of water from the Shannon to the Greater Dublin Area. Ongoing measures are to reduce leakage in the system and to reduce demand through supporting water conservation measures.
The second issue is the pollution of surface waters. The challenge for water protection is that it is becoming the middle child to the climate emergency and biodiversity crises. While water supports all systems on earth, climate and biodiversity are getting all the attention and the majority of funding. Less than 1% of the water on the planet is freshwater that is accessible for use by plants, animals and humans. In Ireland, 50% of our available freshwater is polluted (the situation is worse in most other EU countries). The EU has some of the strictest rules and regulations for water protection, so the situation is likely to be worse in other parts of the globe.
The second challenge is to protect the 50% clean water that is available to us and to restore, if possible, the rest. Naturally water is constantly cycled and in this natural process it cleans itself but to do so it needs to filter through soils, sediments, bedrock, aquifers and finally to the sea to be evaporated and fall again as rainfall. That cycle is impacted by human activity that adds pollution to waterways through poor agricultural practice, altering the course of streams and rivers and wastewater discharges are the main pollutants affecting Ireland’s rivers and lakes.
The draft River Basin Management Plan 2022-2027, it is currently out for public consultation. The plan details how our water resources will be managed for the next 6 years.
Further information on this plan and how you can contribute to how you can contribute to the consultation see:
The Eco Eye programme is available at: