Urban Wastewater Discharges

Sewage pollution from urban areas is second only to agriculture as a source of water pollution in Ireland. Lack of effective wastewater treatment and untreated wastewater overflows damage our water environment and pose a significant public health risk.

What’s the issue?

The EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) reported in 2021 that wastewater treatment in 12 urban areas, which generate more than half of Ireland’s sewage, failed to meet minimum legal treatment standards 15 years after the final deadline to comply.  Also, raw sewage from 34 towns and villages was flowing into our water every day.[1]

Wastewater discharges are a key factor in more than half our rivers and bays being in an unhealthy state and pose a serious threat to water quality and to sensitive habitats and species.

Sewage overflows caused by rainfall are a frequent occurrence and result in beaches across the country closing regularly after rain.

What needs to change?

The EU Urban Wastewater Treatment Directive sets standards and monitoring requirements for the collection and treatment of wastewater discharges from urban areas. Through these regulations, it aims to protect the environment from the effects of urban wastewater discharges.

In 2019 the European Court of Justice found that Ireland was failing to meet obligations of the Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive, and the state is at risk of incurring significant fines if the situation isn’t remedied swiftly.[2] 

SWAN has highlighted decades of lack of investment and lack of political will as the root cause of this failure to deliver a most basic public service vital for the protection of public health and the environment.

Read more:

Press Release on EPA Waste Water Treatment Report (Oct 2021)

SWAN Response to 3rd River Basin Management Plan (RBMP) Consultation

Sustainable Water Network (SWAN) Response to Public Consultation on the Draft River Basin Management Plan – SWAN Submission, August 2017 


[1] EPA (2021) ‘Urban Waste Water Treatment in 2020’ https://www.epa.ie/publications/monitoring–assessment/waste-water/Urban-Waste-Water-Treatment-in-2020-report.pdf 

[2] https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/HTML/?uri=CELEX:62017CJ0427&from=EN