Water Environment (Abstractions) Bill

Abstraction is the removal of water from surface water or groundwater, either permanently or temporarily.

Ireland is currently in breach of the EU Water Framework Directive (WFD) requirement for controls over the abstraction of fresh surface water and groundwater, which should include a register of abstractions and a licensing regime for abstraction and impoundment.

In an effort to resolve this legislative gap, in 2018, the Government drafted the Water Environment (Abstractions) Bill. Upon its publication, SWAN highlighted that the draft Bill fell far short of what was required to adhere to EU law and what was needed to protect the water environment. SWAN flagged that the Bill set regulation thresholds so high that a substantial majority of water abstractions would remain unregistered and unmonitored, potentially having serious implications for the local environment and future rural water supply.

In 2020, the Oireachtas Committee on Housing, Local Government and Heritage undertook pre-legislative scrutiny of the Bill. SWAN appeared before the Committee to advise on the shortcomings of the Bill. Read SWAN’s opening statement to the Joint Committee on Housing, Local Government and Heritage on the Water Environment (Abstractions) Bill here.

SWAN’s evidence to the Committee was based on SWAN’s expert report on water abstraction in Ireland. Published in November 2020, the report highlights the risks and potential impact of the State’s insufficient monitoring and regulation of abstraction. Read SWAN’s policy report ‘Water Abstraction: Interactions with the Water Framework Directive & Groundwater Directive and Implications for the Status of Ireland’s Waters’ available here. 

In January 2021, the Oireachtas Committee published a unanimous report highlighting key flaws with the Bill and proposing clear recommendations to bring the proposed legislation in line with EU law and with corresponding laws in neighbouring jurisdictions such as Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. Read the Joint Committee on Housing, Local Government and Heritage Report on Pre-Legislative Scrutiny of the General Scheme of the Water Environment (Abstractions) Bill here. Read SWAN’s statement responding to the Committee report here.