I move that the Committee agree with the Seanad in amendment No. 17:
Section 66: In page 86, between lines 38 and 39, the following new sections inserted:
"(2) Section 3 of the Local Government (Water Pollution) Act, 1977, is hereby amended by the substitution for subsection (3) (inserted by the Local Government (Water Pollution) (Amendment) Act, 1990) of the following subsection:
‘(3) It shall be a defence to a charge of committing an offence under this section for the accused to prove that he took all reasonable care to prevent the entry to waters to which the charge relates by providing, maintaining, using, operating and supervising facilities, or by employing practices or methods of operation, that were suitable for the purpose of such prevention, and, where appropriate, that the entry to waters to which the charge relates arose from an activity carried on in accordance with a nutrient management plan approved under section 21A (inserted by the Waste Management Act, 1996) of the Local Government (Water Pollution) (Amendment) Act, 1990.'
(3) The Local Government (Water Pollution) (Amendment) Act, 1990, is hereby amended by the insertion of the following section after section 21:
21A.—(1) Subject to subsection (2), whenever a local authority considers that, for the purposes of preventing, eliminating or minimising the entry of polluting matter to waters from an activity referred to in section 21 (1) (b) (being an activity that is carried on in its functional area) it is necessary to do so, it may serve a notice in writing under this section on—
(a) the owner of the land on which the activity is carried on, or
(b) if the owner of the said land is not in occupation thereof, the person who is in occupation of the said land, requiring the person to prepare and furnish to it for its approval under this section a plan (in this section referred to as a "nutrient management plan") in relation to the activity within a specified period, being a period of not less than 5 months beginning on the date of service of the notice.
(2) A notice under subsection (1) shall not be served on a person in relation to an activity the carrying on of which requires the grant of a licence under Part IV of the Environmental Protection Agency Act, 1992.
(3) Before a local authority decides to exercise the power conferred by subsection (1), (whether generally as respects activities referred to in section 21 (1) (b) carried on on lands in its functional area or as respects such activities carried on on lands in a particular part of its functional area) it shall consult with such body or bodies as may be prescribed for the purposes of this subsection.
(4) A notice under this section—
(a) shall require that the nutrient management plan—
(i) provide such particulars of the activity concerned as are specified in the notice,
(ii) specify the quantities of such nutrients in animal and other waste as are specified in the notice (which may include nutrients in waste as aforesaid produced from sources other than the land concerned) which it is estimated will be used in each year of the relevant period on the land concerned,
(iii) provide that a determination of the types and concentration of nutrients in the soil of the land concerned shall be made in accordance with a programme of sampling and analysis to be determined by the local authority after consultation with the person on whom the notice is served (hereafter in this section referred to as "the relevant person"),
(iv) specify the maximum quantities of such nutrients as are specified in the notice that, in the opinion of the relevant person, having regard to each of the matters referred to in subsection (5), ought, in each year of the relevant period, to be applied to, or injected into, the land concerned, or such parts thereof as are specified in the notice, or applied to crops growing on that land or such parts as are so specified,
(v) specify the times during the relevant period when the application to, or the injection into, the land concerned, or the application to crops growing thereon, of animal and other waste and chemical fertiliser ought, and ought not, in the opinion of the relevant person, to be carried out, having regard to any crop requirements and the objective of preventing, eliminating or minimising the loss of nutrients to waters,
(vi) require the keeping and maintenance of records in respect of each year, or, in the case of the matter referred to in clause (III), the year or years concerned, of the relevant period, containing such particulars as may be determined by the local authority after consultation with the relevant person in relation to—
(I) the doing of the following things during the year concerned by the said person, namely—
(A) the production, treatment, receiving from, or transfer to, another person by him of animal or other waste,
(B) the application to, or the injection into, the land concerned or the application to crops growing thereon, by him of animal or other waste and the times and rates at which such application or injection is carried out,
(II) the types and quantities of chemical fertiliser applied to the land concerned during the year concerned and the times and rates at which such application is carried out,
(III) the results of the determination referred to in subparagraph (iii) made in relation to the land concerned and, as the case may be, of any further determination of such kind made, pursuant to a requirement under paragraph (b) (ii), during the year concerned,
(vii) require such information in relation to the matters referred to in this paragraph and, as the case may be, paragraph (b), as is specified in the notice to be furnished to the local authority,
(b) may require that the nutrient management plan—
(i) shall require the keeping and maintenance of records in respect of each year of the relevant period containing particulars as may be determined by the local authority after consultation with the relevant person of the concentration of such nutrients in animal or other waste as are specified in the notice that have been applied to, or injected into, the land concerned during the year concerned,
(ii) shall provide that a further determination of the kind referred to in paragraph (a) (iii) (whether in respect of nutrients generally or nutrients of a class specified in a notice served by the local authority on the relevant person for the purposes of this sub-paragraph) shall be made at specified intervals after the determination referred to in that provision has been made,
(iii) shall address such other matters as the local authority considers necessary for the purpose of preventing, eliminating or minimising the entry of nutrients to waters from the activity concerned and specifies in the notice.
(5) The matters referred to in subsection (4) (a) (iv) are—
(a) the nature of the activity concerned,
(b) the type of soil concerned and the types and concentration of nutrients in that soil,
(c) the types of crop previously grown on the land concerned and the types of nutrient previously applied to, or injected into, that land and the rates of such application or injection, where relevant,
(d) the types of crop grown or to be grown on the land concerned,
(e) the intensity of the stocking of animals (if any) on the land concerned and of any other agricultural activities carried on on that land, and
(f) the need to make efficient use of nutrients having regard to any crop requirements and the objective of preventing, eliminating or minimising the loss of nutrients to waters.
(6) In subsection (4) and the subsequent provisions of this section "the relevant period" means the period of 12 months, or such longer period as may be specified in the notice concerned under subsection (1) or (8), as appropriate, beginning on the date that is 2 months after the approval of the nutrient management plan concerned under this section by the relevant local authority.
(7) A local authority may, as respects a nutrient management plan prepared and furnished to it in accordance with a notice under subsection (1), refuse to approve of the plan or approve thereof without modifications or make such modifications therein as it considers proper and approve of the plan as so modified.
(8) (a) A local authority, where it refuses to approve of a nutrient management plan under subsection (7), may, by service of a notice in writing on the person who furnished the plan to it, require that person to prepare and furnish to it another such plan and subsection (3) and the other provisions of this section shall apply to such a notice and such a plan as they apply to a notice under subsection (1) and a plan furnished to it pursuant to a notice under that subsection.
(b) The reference in subsection (2) to a notice under subsection (1) includes a reference to a notice under this subsection.
(9) If, upon the expiration of the period of 2 months from the date of receipt by it of a nutrient management plan prepared and furnished in accordance with a notice under this section, the local authority concerned has neither given a decision under subsection (7) to refuse to approve of the plan nor a decision thereunder to approve of the plan (by either of the means referred to in that subsection), the local authority shall be deemed to have approved of the plan under that subsection.
(10) A nutrient management plan may, with the prior written consent of the local authority which approved of the plan under this section, be varied during the relevant period.
(11) A person who fails to comply with a notice under subsection (1) or (8) within the period specified in the notice shall be guilty of an offence and be liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding £1,000 or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 6 months, or to both.
(12) Proceedings for an offence under this section may be brought by the local authority which served the notice concerned".
This is a very important amendment which inserts a new section into the Local Government (Water Pollution) (Amendment) Act, 1990, empowering local authorities to require farmers to prepare nutrient management plans in respect of their farms. Deputies will recall that we had some discussion about this and I promised I would extend it into the area of farm pollution as well. I have had discussions with the Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry and with the farming organisations.
During our earlier consideration of the Bill, there was a debate about the potential of agricultural waste and certain farming practices to cause water pollution. There was a recognition by many Deputies that, in addition to the controls to be applied to waste in general, the Bill contained a number of provisions focusing principally on agricultural wastes. Deputies welcomed these provisions but raised concerns that the threat posed to the environment by some agricultural activities should be countered more effectively. In responding to the debate I undertook to introduce an amendment to the water pollution Act when the Bill came before the Seanad for the purpose of dealing with the excessive enrichment of waters caused by nutrients contained in farm wastes and chemical fertilisers being washed off and causing eutrophication in our waterways.
The water courses of Ireland are relatively clean when compared to those of other European countries. However, in Ireland circumstances have arisen where farm wastes have the potential to impact seriously on the quality of rivers and lakes generally, due to the large volume of waste involved and its high nutrient content, in particular, its high phosphorous content. Farm run-offs is a significant source of pollution causing high nutrient levels in waters and giving rise to eutrophication. There has been a disturbing trend in the proportion of river channel to be affected by eutrophication since the early 1970s. The national overview of water quality for the period 1991-94 which was published recently by the Environmental Protection Agency is a comprehensive overview of the state of the Irish environment of which the Environmental Protection Agency can be very proud. A new overview will be published every five years from this day on. The overview looks at every aspect of the environment. It shows that eutrophication or slight to moderate pollution affected 28 per cent of surveyed river channel. This compared to 21 per cent for the previous period of analysis which was 1987-90.
Since it is essential that we address this issue, I am availing of this opportunity to introduce an amendment to the Local Government (Water Pollution) (Amendment) Act, 1990 to provide that a new responsibility may be placed by a local authority on individual farmers to prepare nutrient management plans in respect of their farms. When considered necessary these new powers will be used by local authorities to prevent, eliminate or minimise pollution caused by a particular segment of nutrients from farming. I hope that farmers generally will adopt nutrient planning as a key element of their farm management strategy for their financial benefit and, of course, for that of the environment generally.
There is an associated amendment to the Local Government (Water Pollution) Act, 1977 which seeks to provide farmers with an additional incentive to comply with the provisions of nutrient management plans for their farms. This takes the form of extending the good defence provision to a prosecution for the general water pollution offence under section 3 of that Act to circumstances in which the accused can prove that a farming activity was carried out in accordance with a nutrient management plan.
By international standards we have an extremely good environment but one worrying aspect is the increasing percentage of our navigable waters which are slightly or moderately polluted by eutrophication or farm run-offs, about which we must do something. Through the combined efforts of my colleague, the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry, the REP programme and informative initiatives undertaken by Teagasc and others — I had the privilege of launching a video for farmers on the spreading of artificial and natural fertilisers — we will reduce any deterimental effects on our environment.
This Bill proposes to give local authorities power to require farmers whose lands adjoin a sensitive area of river or lake to implement a nutrient plan or, if and when there is an occurrence of clear eutrophication in a particular stretch of river or lake to engage in direct discussions with them to ascertain how they apply nutrients to that particular stretch of land, if Teagasc can help them or if a system can be devised to ensure that whatever damage is done is minimised or eliminated. The incentive to farmers, by making it a good defence to devise and follow a plan in the case of prosecution, will encourage them to plan properly for the addition of nutrients. We have had discussions with the farmers' organisations and I believe there will be a general welcome for this proposal.