Proposed water plan will fail to restore Ireland’s waters to good health.

The Sustainable Water Network (SWAN) today criticised the government’s draft plan 1 for managing Ireland’s inland and coastal waters as completely lacking in the strong ambition, measures and targets needed to restore our waters to good health.  

The River Basin Management Plan1, is the third since 2009, and is the key tool for the government to achieve the requirements of the EU Water Framework Directive (WFD) to restore all Ireland’s waters to a healthy state (‘good status’) by 2027 and to prevent any further deterioration. Despite this, only half Ireland’s rivers, lakes and estuaries are currently healthy. With river water quality in decline and water pollution  now rising at an unprecedented rate2, the network of 25 environmental organisations sees this as a water crisis that will persist under the proposed plan. Launching their ‘Restore Our Waters’ campaign3, SWAN has set out a number of recommendations to fix the plan.

Sinéad O’Brien, SWAN Coordinator, said: “While there are some welcome improvements in the draft plan, what is most disappointing is its lack of ambition. The plan as it stands is a hotch-potch of actions and aspirations that may, or may not, restore some of our water bodies to health. In fact, under law we must restore ALL our waters by 2027, but this plan lacks the specific, targeted and time bound measures that would provide a clear path to achieving this.

“One of our key recommendations is to introduce a prohibition on wetland drainage and to develop a national wetland restoration plan. This would not only restore our rivers, lakes, and improve water quality, it would also deliver immense benefits for climate, nature and flood resilience.” 

“Sewage is the main source of pollution in 208 waterbodies, yet the proposed Plan doesn’t include measures to fix these by the 2027 deadline. The fact that raw and poorly treated sewage is still being released into our rivers, lakes and seas is completely unacceptable. The Plan should include a requirement that the Irish Water Investment Plan includes action to halt sewage pollution in these waters, as a priority.”

Elaine McGoff, Natural Environment Officer with An Taisce said: “Agriculture policy must be brought in line with the directive so as to halt and reverse escalating water pollution. Risk assessments based on the directive requirements should be implemented for all intensive farms, including derogation farms. We also need directive based assessments when giving licences for forestry and a ban on afforestation and re-planting on peat soils in acid sensitive catchments, which is detrimental to water wildlife.”  

Karin Dubsky, Coastwatch Co-ordinator said: “Only 38% of our estuaries are now officially ‘good’ status. Healthy estuaries are vital for nature and coastal communities. We need to jump from disjointed promises and aspirations to integrated management,  with clear actions to reach at least ‘good’ status in the plan. Those actions must be integrated across all national level coastal and marine policy, and legislation, including the new Maritime Area Planning Act and the National Marine Planning Framework. 

Mark Boyden, Streamscapes Project Director said: “To ensure we restore our waters, we need the public and local river groups/trusts involved  from the start in the development of action plans for their local waters. And they need to be facilitated and resourced to do this. We also need full transparency and access to water quality information.”

Sinéad O’Brien, SWAN Coordinator said: “Our local rivers, lakes and coast have given us so much, especially during the pandemic, providing restorative spaces for relaxation and enjoyment. Now is the time for us to give back. To do this, we’re looking for people to support our campaign and call on  the government to deliver an ambitious, targeted plan to restore Ireland’s whole water environment to good health – a plan that we can all get behind.”


Click here to find out more about the campaign.



  1. Public Consultation on plan from September 2021 till 31st March 2022, https://www.gov.ie/en/consultation/2bda0-public-consultation-on-the-draft-river-basin-management-plan-for-ireland-2022-2027/
  2. Environmental Protection Agency (2019) ‘Water Quality in Ireland 2013 – 2018’, https://www.epa.ie/pubs/reports/water/waterqua/Water%20Quality%20in%20Ireland%202013-2018%20(web).pdf
    Environmental Protection Agency (2021) ‘Water Quality in 2020 – An Indicators Report’,
  3. SWAN’s Restore Our Waters” campaign page with 7 key asks. https://www.swanireland.ie/take-action/restore-our-waters