What’s the issue?
Artificial (or ‘man-made’) physical alterations (or hydromorphological modifications) represent the second most prevalent threat to Irish waters and are a significant pressure in more than a quarter of Irish water bodies identified as ‘at risk’ by the EPA.1 Hydromorphological alterations include structures and activities that alter the natural physical and hydrological state of waters, such as building of dams, weirs or embankments; dredging or straightening of rivers; and drainage of wetlands.2 The natural integrity of water bodies is crucial to properly support its biological health and the habitats in or near the waterbody. Irresponsible and unregulated modifications and ‘physical works’ threaten this integrity.
The EU Water Framework Directive identifies physical modifications of water bodies as a significant pressure and requires member states to have put in place a regulatory system for their control by 2012. Nearly ten years on from this deadline, Ireland has yet to put such regulations in place.
What needs to change?
In order to ensure compliance with key EU water law the EU Water Framework Directive, and to best protect our water environment, Ireland should:
- Urgently introduce national regulations to control physical modifications to water bodies; this should include a comprehensive WFD compliance assessment to be carried out in advance of any proposed activity in or near a water body.
- Review the Arterial Drainage Act. At a minimum, remove the legal obligation on the OPW for ongoing dredging and in the meantime, all river dredging and other ‘maintenance activities’ carried out under the ‘National Arterial Drainage Maintenance List of Activities’ must be halted.
- Any flood management activity included in the OPW Flood Risk Management Plans (FRMPs) that will negatively impact the status of a waterbody should only be permitted if the exemption criteria of the WFD is met.
- Prohibit drainage of all wetlands. Ensure these regulations are enforced, and accompanied by targeted awareness raising campaigns.
- Establish an ambitious national programme to restore our rivers to their natural state, including restoration of wetlands and riparian (river side) corridors and re-connecting rivers with their floodplains.
- Establish a national programme of integrated catchment-based flood management that incorporates all (rural and urban) land-use management and planning and natural flood retention approaches.