In response to the alarming Urban Wastewater Treatment in 2022 report released yesterday by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), The Rivers Trust is issuing an urgent call to action to protect Ireland’s rivers and coastal waters from pollution from untreated wastewater.
The EPA's findings reveal that over half of Ireland's sewage is being released into rivers and coastal waters without the essential treatment required. This amounts to a staggering half a billion litres of inadequately treated wastewater discharged daily, putting both public health and the environment at serious risk. The sheer volume of raw sewage discharged daily, akin to filling three Olympic-size swimming pools, is a significant stressor on Ireland's waterways and negatively impacts water quality in many areas.
The Rivers Trust Ireland Development Manager Constanze O’Toole said: “The consequences of this widespread practice are dire. The wastewater discharges contain high levels of nutrients and are contaminated with harmful bacteria and viruses, damaging our delicate ecosystems and posing an unacceptable risk to the environment and public health. We simply cannot afford to ignore this issue any longer.”
The source of this deluge of undertreated water is widespread, originating from domestic sinks and toilets, industrial discharges, public drains, and stormwater overflows. It is either directly released into waterways where there are no wastewater treatment facilities or overflows from overloaded and underperforming plants.
The EPA's report highlights 1,080 ‘short duration’ environmental incidents at wastewater treatment plants last year, primarily caused by equipment breakdown and maintenance issues, alongside 244 ongoing or recurring issues. It spotlights 26 towns and villages lacking connections to wastewater treatment plants, leading to the untreated sewage of 54,000 people entering waterways without processing.
Constanze continued: “The EPA says the gravity of the situation means an extensive multi-billion-euro investment is necessary to bring all treatment systems up to standard. Even with this significant financial commitment, the work required will take at least two decades. To prevent pollution and protect water quality, it is essential to invest to accelerate the pace at which Uisce Éireann can deliver improvements. Our rivers are the lifeblood of our prosperity, and the reckless discharge of undertreated sewage poses a grave threat to our ecosystems and the well-being of our communities.”
“We all have a role to play in addressing freshwater pollution. Government bodies, NGOs, industries, agriculture, and communities must work collaboratively to address this critical issue. In both funding and legislation, we need to prioritise the protection of our rivers and coastal waters, ensuring they remain safe and clean for generations to come, as they are fundamental to a healthy and sustainable society.”
You can download the full Urban Wastewater Treatment in 2022 report here.