The second cycle River Basin Management Plan was launched in April 2018.
Responding to the publication, SWAN highlighted that this plan fell far short of what was needed to protect our rivers, lakes and bays and to bring them up to a healthy standard. SWAN flagged that the plan lacked ambition as it only aimed to fix a small fraction of Ireland’s unhealthy rivers, lakes, groundwater and coastal waters.
Our water environment is the final recipient of many of the by-products of human activities, some are well-treated, but many are not and therefore pose a threat to human and environmental health. Discharge of raw and inadequately treated sewage; spreading of slurry, fertiliser and pesticides on farmland; unsuitable coniferous forestry, drainage of peatland and wetlands and faulty septic tanks, have all been identified as posing a threat to our water environment. The 2018 River Basin Management Plan failed to set out the significant changes needed to adequately address these persistent shortcomings.
The legal requirement under the EU Water Framework Directive is to introduce new measures to bring our rivers, lakes and bays up to a good ecological state by 2021 (with some exemptions until 2027). However the 2018 Plan proposed to fix only a small fraction (12%) of ailing water bodies. The most recent EPA data now shows that more than half of our rivers, lakes and estuaries are in an unhealthy state (47%, 50% and 62% respectively), with river water pollution having in fact increased and a loss of most of our pristine river stretches, down from over 500 in the late 80s to a mere 20 in 2018.
SWAN highlighted that the 2018 Plan’s low targets for water quality improvements were not only insufficient to improve water quality, but also failed to meet the requirements of the WFD, leaving Ireland exposed to a risk of fines from the EU.