The Impact of the Current Regulatory Framework on Water Quality in Ireland
Lecturer: Aisling O’Gorman Waste Process Management Lecturer: Aisling O’Gorman Waste Process Management 08 Fall 08 Fall Submission Date: 11/10/2012 Word Count: 2387 Submission Date: 11/10/2012 Word Count: 2387 The Impact of the Current Regulatory Framework on Water Quality in Ireland: Maria McShane
The Impact of the Current Regulatory Framework on Water Quality in Ireland: Maria McShane Introduction Based on the evaluation of various reports, papers, documents, regulations and legislation from numerous agencies, departments, directives and bodies it can be seen that although “on paper” major changes have been made so as to improve the quality of water in Ireland, realistically the amendments do not match up.
This being that progress has been slow and minimal when compared to the reform of regulations and legislation and the introduction of the Water Framework Directive.Considering the key importance of water as a natural resource both to society and habitats alike it will be argued that although the intention is there to improve the quality of water in Ireland (and there have been some improvements) as an overall, actual major physical improvements to the water quality has yet to be seen.
Report Firstly the Water Framework Directive will be examined to highlight its purpose, current status and goals for the future and how it fits into impacting Irelands water quality.The WFD was set up by the EU “in response to the increasing threat of pollution and the increasing demand from the public for cleaner rivers, lakes and beaches” (The Eu Water Framework Directive.
[online] Available at: <http://www. wfdireland. ie/wfd. tml>[Accessed on 08/10/12]). According to the Water Framework Directives’ website, their aims are to “protect/enhance all waters (surface, ground and coastal waters), achieve “good status” for all waters by December 2015, manage water bodies based on river basins (or catchments), involve the public and streamline legislation”1 (The Eu Water Framework Directive. [online] Available at: <http://www. wfdireland. ie/wfd. html>[Accessed on 08/10/12]).
In order to achieve these goals a timetable for implementation of the directive was created, starting from its transposition into Irish Legislation by the European Communities (Water Policy) Regulations 2003, (Statutory Instrument 722) on 22nd December 2003 (European Communities (Water Policy) Regulations 2003, (Statutory Instrument 722). (The Eu Water Framework Directive. [online] Available at: <http://www. wfdireland. ie/wfd. html>[Accessed on 08/10/12]). From the 22nd December 2003 to the 22nd June 2009 no Programmes of Measures were actually implemented in order to beneficially impact Irelands water quality by the WFD.
Instead the WFD established (June 2004) and characterised (December 2004) Irelands River Basin Districts, submitted a National Summary Report on the characterisation of the RBDs to the European Commission (March 2005), developed classification systems for surface water and groundwater (June 2006), established and maintained appropriate Monitoring Programmes (June 2006), prepared and published a work programme and timetable for the production of River Basin Management Plans (RBMP) (June 2006), identified the significant water management issues in each river basin (June 2007), drafted RBMPs and allowed six months for written comment (June 2008), and finally established environmental objectives and final Programmes of Measures and developed RBMPs for implementation (June 2009), (Water Framework Directive, ). Although this research and reporting is a vital function of improving Irelands water quality, the timeframe in which this has been done means that physical progress has been hindered. The actual recovery progress made to Irelands water quality can be seen in various Environmental Protection Agency reports. According to the EPA’s Water Quality in Ireland Report of 2007-2009, between 1987 and 1990, 77. 3, 12. 0, 9. 7 and 0. % surveyed river channel length were unpolluted, slightly polluted, moderately polluted and seriously polluted respectively. By the 2001-2003 report the percentage of unpolluted rivers had dropped from 77. 3% to 69. 3% which is significant, in addition to this the percentage surveyed of seriously polluted rivers had risen from 0. 4% to 0. 6%, slight and moderate pollution had also risen by 5. 9 and 2. 6 percent respectively. By the 2007-2009 report the percentage of surveyed river that remained unpolluted had dropped again to 68. 9%, slight pollution had also risen to 20. 7%. Fortunately moderate and seriously polluted waters had seen a drop from 12. 3 and 0. 6 to 10. 0 and 0. 4 percent respectively (M. McGarrigle et al. [2009).
Considering that the water quality of rivers for the 2001-2003 recording period was healthier than the 2007-2009 recording period, even though the 2001-2003 period coincides with the implementation of the WFD, highlights that for a period of six years that the WFD was in effect Irelands river water quality declined. This corroborates to the argument that yes the WFD has carried out reports, monitoring programs and drafted plans all well and good, but without any actual meaningful actions taken, what good is the WFD at all? This is not to say that the WFD has not done anything positive, for example since its introduction “the percentage of channel surveyed classified as seriously polluted has decreased to 0. 4 percent compared with the previous period when 0. 5 percent was seriously polluted” (M. McGarrigle et al. ).
It cannot be stressed enough that in order to improve the quality of water in Ireland research and reporting is fundamental, however the point being made is that pencil pushing and fiddling around writing reports and documents will not recuperate Irelands water systems. Six years is a very long timeframe for an EU commissioned directive to take no feasible action other than talk about and plan what it’s going to do and then expect to reach its target of returning all waters to “good status” by December 2015. To emphasise the case that without acting and merely focusing on the bureaucratic side of things the WFD has impeded its own progress, citing’s from the South Western River Basin Management Plan (2009-2015) report will be looked at.
It states, “municipal wastewater discharge is one of the two most important sources of pollution in Irish rivers, accounting for 38% of the number of polluted river sites recorded (the other source being agricultural activities)” (South Western River Basin District ). This is not new news, this has been known for quite some time and “the two top sectors responsible for the pollution of Irish rivers are municipal and agriculture” has even been quoted in the 1991-1993 EPA water quality in Ireland report. To add to this the Nitrates Directive was set up in 1991 for the “protection of waters against pollution by nitrates from agricultural sources” (Department of Environment, Community and Local Government, The Nitrates Directive. [online] Available at: http://www. nviron. ie/en/Environment/Water/WaterQuality/NitratesDirective/ [Accessed on 08/10/12]). This directive actually implemented legislation that “required the avoidance of practices by farmers which create a risk of causing pollution to water courses and provide for inspections by local authorities. They also provided for strengthened enforcement provisions and for better farmyard management. They included provisions relating to times of the year, weather and soil conditions when the application of fertilisers is permitted, the minimum setback distances from water sources for the application of fertilisers and minimum storage capacity for manures”. Department of Environment, Community and Local Government, The Nitrates Directive. [online] Available at: http://www. environ. ie/en/Environment/Water/WaterQuality/NitratesDirective/ [Accessed on 08/10/12]). Why then is the SWRBD reporting that agriculture is the second biggest cause of pollution to Irish rivers, number one when this has long been known and number two when measures have already been put in place a long time ago to address this problem? To add to this they also quoted “The main objective in relation to wastewater is to meet the requirements of the EU Urban Waste Water Treatment Regulations (2001-2010) in full” (South Western River Basin District ). Not to be crude, but are they for real?
This is common sense, these regulations have been in place since 2001, and yes they would have been modified over the years but how in 2010 when this report came out can meeting these regulations still be just an objective? To highlight further the WFDs failure to have a significant positive impact on the quality of Irish water a recent EPA report on the assessment of aquatic ecosystem responses to POM’s intended to improve water quality in Ireland was released. According to this report, “results presented suggest that many existing POMs have proven or are proving ineffective in raising BWQ (biological water quality) and restoring ecological functioning” (D. Taylor et al. ). An example of this can be seen in the “strategic replacement of 10% of septic tank systems in part of the Blackwater catchment in CO. Armagh” (D. Taylor et al. ).
The report showed that overall, prior and subsequent to the replacement of the septic tank systems phosphorous loads remained largely the same. In conjunction with this result, “in other parts of the Blackwater, the replacement and upgrading of septic tank systems had no significant phosphorous concentration effects, despite the implementation of additional POMs aimed at reducing phosphorous inputs from point and diffuse sources” (D. Taylor et al. ). The report goes on to say that some of the “potential reasons why the implementation of POMs have had limited success include the delayed, incomplete or uneven application of measures” (D. Taylor et al. ).
This only solidifies the argument that the WFD spent too much time thinking about what to do, and then what measures they did put in place, for the most part either took too long to do so or did not implement the measure properly in order to meet their 2015 deadline. Which follows now onto a report that was released in July 2010 on behalf of the WFD entitled “Final River Basin Management Plans Background Documentation, Alternative Objectives: Approach to Extended Deadlines”, its main purpose, to focus on certain cases that require an extension past the 2015 deadline (kind of defeats the purpose of the WFD if they are admitting defeat five years before the deadline). Under section 4. 0 ‘Agriculture’ of this report, one of the cases for exclusion is nitrate losses from agriculture to groundwaters. The reason for this, “Scientific data indicates status recovery extends beyond 2015. “Recovery of elevated nitrate levels in groundwater bodies is expected to take place in approximately 20 years even with full implementation of the Good Agricultural Practice regulations (Fenton et al, in press). So yes, while it is known that the natural recovery of a water system takes substantial time, with technology today could the WFD not invest in developing nitrate removal techniques such as, layered double hydroxides which “are of interest because of the potential to use LDHs to remove agrochemicals from polluted water, reducing the likelihood of eutrophication” (Wikipedia. org, Layered Double Hydroxins. [online] Available at: <http://en. wikipedia. org/wiki/Layered_double_hydroxides> [Accessed on 08/10/2012]). Another case looked at in this report is wastewater discharges from some treatment plants.
The reason for the exemption, a technical/practical constraint, it states “The time required to plan and design upgrades to treatment plants and to achieve approvals and licensing means it is not technically possible to achieve good status in 2015,” the action applied is to leave “Local Authorities to upgrade plants through the Water Services Investment Programme” meaning that funding is one of the reasons that there will be a delay in the overhaul of wastewater treatment plants in Ireland. Unsurprisingly, according to the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government website “with the changed economic climate and the finalisation of the first cycle of River Basin Management Plans, the new programme aims to prioritise projects that target environmental compliance issues” (Department of Environment, Community and Local Government, Water Services Investment Programme. online] Available at: http://www. environ. ie/en/Environment/Water/WaterServices/WaterServicesInvestmentProgramme/ [Accessed on 08/10/2012]). This here shown lack of initiative by the Government and the WFD by not investing in technology that can help recover Irish waters allows the development of this last argument. In a very recent position paper entitled “Reform of the Water Sector in Ireland” carried out by the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government it was highlighted that “water services cost over €1. 2 billion to run in 2010, of which operational costs amounted to some €715 million, with capital expenditure of over €500 million”.
The paper goes on to tell of the impending establishment of the state company ‘Irish Water’ “that will take over the water investment and maintenance programmes of the 34 county and city councils with the key aim of supervising and accelerating the pace of delivery of planned investments needed to upgrade the State’s water and sewerage networks” (Department of Environment, Community and Local Government, ). This state company intends on funding its investments and programmes via water charges paid for by Irish householders. Despite the fact that Ireland is in a recession and its people are struggling as it is financially, the fact remains that Ireland is the only country in the OECD that does not pay for its water use (Department of Environment, Community and Local Government, ).
It states, “Our capacity to fund the future capital investment requirements from the exchequer is severally constrained. The Government’s plan for Infrastructure and Capital Investment 2012-16 shows a decline in exchequer capital investment in water and waste water services from €435 million in 2011 to €371 million in 2012 and a further decline to €296 million by 2014” (Department of Environment, Community and Local Government, ). This is one of the reasons why Irish Water is a good idea as it will actually fund the necessary wastewater treatment plant changes that need to be done in order to tackle some of Irelands water pollution issues while also effectively reducing the amount of treated potable water wasted everyday by Irish households.
So to sum up, yes, introducing the WFD has had a positive impact as it has lead to developments in implementations that will help to recover the quality of Irelands waters, however the main argument being made in this paper is that they failed on several points. Firstly they spent too much time on the bureaucratic side of things, six years to be exact figuring out what the problems were and where, when a lot of them were obvious, had been known about and reported on several years previously and many had already been addressed. Secondly, a lot of POMs that were implemented were done so either to late or not properly, meaning that a lot of them have not lead to any significant positive changes.
Finally where the WFD failed was a lack of investment into developing technologies that might help accelerate the return of Irish waters to their natural state, and a huge time lag into implementing water charges so as to invest into Irelands infrastructure regarding wastewater treatment. Overall time here is what has been wasted, as for every day that no action is taken is another day when Irelands water and habitats suffer. Nature does not and can not wait for the pencil pushers. References 1. The Eu Water Framework Directive. [online] Available at: <http://www. wfdireland. ie/wfd. html>[Accessed on 08/10/12] 2. Water Framework Directive, .
The Characterisation and Analysis of Ireland’s River Basin Districts, National Summary Report. Ireland 3. Environmental Protection Agency, M. McGarrigle et al. . Water Quality in Ireland. Ireland 4. South Western River Basin District,  South Western River Basin Management Plan. Ireland 5. Environmental Protection Agency,  Water Quality in Ireland. Ireland 6. Department of Environment, Community and Local Government, The Nitrates Directive. [online] Available at: http://www. environ. ie/en/Environment/Water/WaterQuality/NitratesDirective/ [Accessed on 08/10/12]). 7. Environmental Protection Agency, D. Taylor et al.  Water Quality and the Aquatic Environment STRIVE Report 91. Ireland 8.
Lag Time: A Methodology For The Estimation Of Vertical, Horizontal Travel & Flushing Timescales To Nitrate Threshold Concentrations In Irish Aquifers Fenton et al under review 9. Wikipedia. org, Layered Double Hydroxins. [online] Available at: <http://en. wikipedia. org/wiki/Layered_double_hydroxides> [Accessed on 08/10/2012]. 10. Department of Environment, Community and Local Government, Water Services Investment Programme. [online] Available at: http://www. environ. ie/en/Environment/Water/WaterServices/WaterServicesInvestmentProgramme/ [Accessed on 08/10/2012]). 11. Department of Environment, Community and Local Government,  Reform of the Water Sector in Ireland. Ireland