Dáil debates

Wednesday, 15 June 2016

Topical Issue Debate

Water Quality

4:25 pm

Photo of Catherine ByrneCatherine Byrne (Dublin South Central, Fine Gael) | Oireachtas source

I thank both Deputies for raising this matter. I am taking this Topical Issue on behalf of the Minister, Deputy Simon Coveney, who cannot be here.

I am aware of concerns about discharges in north county Dublin and the subsequent impact on beach water quality, including in Rush. However, it is important to state neither the Minister nor his Department has any direct role in monitoring or supervising the delivery of water services or any pollution incident arising therefrom. While it is unfortunate to have beach closures, particularly during the peak tourism season, it must be acknowledged that such closures take place primarily on a precautionary basis for the protection of public health. Where local authorities identify particular risk events such as intense localised rainfall or a discharge incident at an urban wastewater facility, a bathing prohibition will allow for the testing of waters while protecting public health. All such incidents are reported to the Environmental Protection Agency's wastewater enforcement system and publicised on the SPLASH website at splash.epa.ie., the national bathing water information website for identified bathing waters around Ireland.

The 2015 bathing water report produced by the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, identifies several bathing waters adjacent to urban areas, particularly those in and around Dublin Bay, as being prone to episodic pollution events and having less than good water quality status. In Fingal Rush South Beach and Loughshinny fall into this category. Such episodic pollution events are generally associated with overflows from pumping stations or storm outfalls as a result of sewer network blockages or following heavy rainfall. The EPA's report highlights the remedial works planned by Irish Water in Loughshinny and Rush and significant infrastructural investment will be required to reduce the likelihood of a recurrence of pollution events in these urban areas.

The EPA is the environmental regulator responsible for the licensing, authorisation and enforcement of urban wastewater discharges consistent with the requirements of the urban wastewater treatment directive. The directive sets out requirements for the collection, treatment and discharge of urban wastewater, with the objective of protecting the environment from the adverse effects of wastewater discharges. In its most recent annual report for 2014 on compliance with the directive, Urban Waste Water Treatment in 2014, the EPA has identified 42 urban locations in which untreated sewage is being discharged to waters. The report outlines why significant and sustained investment in the public water and wastewater systems is needed. Historical under-investment in water infrastructure in Ireland now means that Irish Water has major issues to address in the coming years and providing funding for that investment is a very significant challenge for the Government. Bringing Ireland into full compliance with the urban wastewater directive is a priority for the Government, but it will take a number of years of sustained investment to achieve this.

Since 1 January 2014 Irish Water has statutory responsibility for all aspects of water services planning, delivery and operation at national, regional and local level, including the management of urban wastewater collection and treatment infrastructure, and is responsible for compliance with the requirements of authorisations issued by the EPA. Irish Water has put in place an investment plan setting out where it considers investment in infrastructure is necessary and in developing investment plans it is required to consult the EPA and the planning authorities, among others. The water services strategic plan, WSSP, published by Irish Water outlines the strategic direction for it in the short, medium and long-term timeframes up to 2040. It identifies and prioritises the key objectives required-----


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