What’s the issue?
Water abstraction is the removal of water from surface water or groundwater, either permanently or temporarily. Water is abstracted for a variety of reasons, for domestic wells, for agriculture, for water bottling plants, and even data centres which often use water to cool down processors.
Presently in Ireland, abstraction is not effectively regulated, we have no idea how much of our water resources are being used, where water is being extracted from and for what purpose. This creates all sorts of risks for the local environment including potential depletion of wetlands and damage to biodiversity.
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 registration and licencing scheme for abstraction.
In November 2020, SWAN published a report highlighting the risks and potential impact of Ireland’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.
What needs to change?
In an effort to comply with EU law and bring in regulation of water abstraction, in 2022, the Government signed into law the Water Environment (Abstractions and Associated Impoundments) Act. 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. Key flaws of the Act highlighted by SWAN include:
- The Act sets licencing exemption limits far too high, with abstractions of less than 2000 cubic metres (2,000,000 litres) or 250 cubic metres (250,000 litres) in areas of significance would not require a licence. 2000 cubic metres is enough water to support a town the size of Dungarvan (9,200 people, 3,360 households) or 16,000 dairy cows. 250 cubic metres is enough water to supply 420 households.
- The Act also sets registration exemption thresholds far too high; it proposes that any abstractions of less than 25 cubic metres (25,000 litres) per day would not be required to register their abstraction. This equates to approximately enough water to fill 104 wheelie bins daily.
- Under the Act, existing abstractors which are deemed to require a licence cannot be refused one. SWAN believes this poses a very serious environmental risk and is in breach of several European environmental laws, including the Habitats Directive.
Following scrutiny of the Bill (which included testimony from SWAN) the Oireachtas Committee on Housing, Local Government and Heritage published a unanimous report highlighting key flaws with the Bill and proposing clear recommendations to bring the proposed legislation in line with EU law. Read more about SWAN’s work on the Water Environment (Abstractions and Associated Impoundments) Act.