Written Answers. - Groundwater Sources.


asked the Minister for the Environment in view of the recent report by the British geological survey which warned that Britain's ground water supplies are increasingly under threat from pollution by agricultural pesticides and industrial solvents, the evaluation which is being undertaken in this country with regard to ensuring that ground waters here are not similarly contaminated, as they supply the overwhelming majority of drinking waters in this country; the basis of his assessment of the quality of such ground waters; and whether such assessment is of an independent nature.

I am aware of the problems which exist in Britain with regard to contamination of some groundwater sources by agricultural activities and industrial effluents resulting in the presence of high levels of nitrates and pesticides. Intensification of agricultural production here has not reached the level attained in Britain, nor are the application rates for nitrogenous fertilisers, which are thought to be contributing to the problems there, comparable. I am satisfied from the information available to me that our groundwater is generally of a high quality and that we do not have problems of the nature or on the scale of those in Britain. The report "Water Quality in Ireland" published by An Foras Forbartha in 1987 notes that while fertiliser usage may have raised the background level of nitrate in groundwaters, there is not significant contamination of the aquifers. The Geological Survey of Ireland has concluded from the information available to it that, for most of the country, groundwater is pure and safe to drink but there are small polluted pockets beneath septic tanks and waste storage areas on farms. Such polluting sources could be eliminated by a greater awareness of the importance of groundwater and care in the location of waste storage/disposal units and wells. Approximately 25 per cent of drinking water supplies in Ireland are obtained from groundwater sources; the great majority of supplies utilise surface sources (lakes and rivers) instead. It is a matter for sanitary authorities, under the European Communities (Quality of Water Intended for Human Consumption) Regulations, 1988, to monitor all water intended for human consumption and to ensure that such water meets the quality standards set in the Regulations. These standards cover a wide range of substances, including pesticides and related products, and toxic and other undesirable substances.