Water Quality: Motion

I move:

That Seanad Éireann:

recognises that clean water is a basic human right of every inhabitant of this country and acknowledges that access to clean water and sanitation is also a United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goal that Ireland has signed up to, and the need to protect it from source to sea and everything along the way, rivers, lakes and groundwater;

notes the following commitments in the Programme for Government:

- to ensure the provision of safe drinking water and the proper treatment of wastewater will remain a priority for the Government;

- to refer the issue of the environment, including water, and its place in the Constitution, to a relevant Joint Oireachtas Committee for consideration;

- to retain Irish Water in public ownership as a national, stand-alone, regulated utility;

- to ensure Irish Water is sufficiently funded to make the necessary investment in drinking water and wastewater infrastructure;

- to mandate Irish Water to develop plans to ensure security of supply and sufficient capacity in drinking and wastewater networks to allow for balanced regional development;

- to fund Irish Water’s capital investment plan for drinking water and wastewater infrastructure on a multi-annual basis and deliver the €8.5 billion funding package committed to in ‘Project Ireland 2040’;

- to support the take-up of Irish Water’s Small Towns and Villages Growth Programme 2020-2024, which will provide water and wastewater growth capacity in smaller settlements that would otherwise not be provided for in Irish Water’s capital investment plan;

- to ensure that the Rural Regeneration and Development Fund supports the development of such projects;

- to support continued investment in reducing leakage across the network;

- to fully consider the review from the Commission for Regulation of Utilities to Irish Water’s proposed approach to the Water Supply Project for the Eastern and Midlands Region;

- to develop a scheme between local authorities and Irish Water to provide drinking water fountains nationwide to reduce plastic bottle litter, as modelled in Ennistymon, Co Clare;

- to continue to help fund upgrades to wells;

- to continue to help fund upgrades to domestic wastewater treatment systems, including septic tanks;

- to review and work to improve the inspection regime for the 500,000 domestic wastewater systems and incentivise upgrading works;

- to ensure that Irish Water progresses works to reduce the number of schemes on the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Remedial Action List;

- to support Irish Water in its programme to remove lead pipes from the public supply;

- to ensure that the State complies with the EU Water Framework Directive which mandates a catchment-based approach to water resource management; Irish Water is mandated to implement this and must be sufficiently funded to do this;

- to expand programmes, including the Agriculture Sustainability Support and Advisory Programme (ASSAP), and work with farmers, industry, and advisory services, to protect and deliver improvements in water quality;

- to launch a new revised and strengthened River Basin Management Plan in 2022, drawing on a collaborative approach between all stakeholders;

- to ensure that Irish Water develops Drinking Water Safety Plans to protect abstraction sources and reduces public health risks, including Trihalomethane (THMs) exceedances in treatment plants;

- to continue to support the Local Authority Waters Programme and expand the Community Water Development Fund;

- to support the National Federation of Group Water Schemes, to ensure that issues of quality and security of supply are addressed;

- to continue to invest in a multi-annual capital funding programme to improve the quality of drinking water in group water schemes, while protecting water quality;

- to support the work of the Water Services Innovation Fund, which aims to investigate solutions for promoting greater efficiency in water usage;

- to continue to work with An Fóram Uisce to review and develop water quality strategies;

- to commission a range of research projects to explore innovative ways of improving our water infrastructure and reducing consumption;

- to reorient the agri-environment to deliver more, in the short-term on water quality through an ambitious ECO-scheme under Pillar 1 of the CAP, rewarding farmers who deliver enhanced environmental performance including improving water quality; the conclusion of the current CAP at the end of 2020 provides a significant opportunity to pilot this agri-environment scheme during the transition period, supported by additional exchequer funding; the scheme will seek to include farmers not currently in GLAS, who previously participated in AEOS, and those exiting GLAS; this pilot will inform the shape of the flagship agri-environment scheme for the next CAP;

- to ensure that Bord na Móna is required to take into account climate, biodiversity, and water objectives, as they deliver on their commercial mandate, through an amendment to the Turf Development Acts 1998;

notes with concern the following issues that need to be addressed:

- infrastructure deficits in Ireland impact on the provision of safe and secure drinking water;

- infrastructure deficits lead to pollution and environmental damage;

- infrastructure deficits present a challenge to achieving sustainable development across urban and rural Ireland;

- continued investment in infrastructure coupled with innovative and modern approaches is absolutely necessary and fast becoming an emergency, to ensure the supply of good quality drinking water and the appropriate treatment of wastewater to protect our waterways and our health;

-the EPA Wastewater Treatment Report 2019 which highlights:

- 19 large urban areas failed to meet mandatory EU standards; these 19 areas generate more than half of Ireland’s sewage;

- raw sewage from 35 towns and villages flows into our waters every day;

- delays and uncertainty in infrastructure delivery are prolonging risks to the environment and public health; Irish Water has no clear action programme or timeframe to improve treatment at almost half the areas (23 of 48) where wastewater is a significant threat to inland and coastal waters at risk of pollution;

- 113 priority areas where improvements are needed to prevent water pollution, eliminate discharges of raw sewage, meet EU treatment standards and protect bathing waters and freshwater pearl mussels;

- the EPA Water Quality in 2019 Indicators Report which states, in relation to: Rivers

- that nearly half (47%) of river sites have unsatisfactory nitrate concentrations. 44% of sites are showing an increasing nitrate trend for the period 2013-2019;

- that over one-third (34%) of sites have unsatisfactory phosphate concentrations; one- quarter (26%) of sites are showing an increasing phosphate trend for the period 2013-2019;

- 43% of river water bodies (1,002) are in moderate or worse quality;

Lakes

- 46% of lakes are in moderate or worse biological quality;

- over a quarter of lakes (27%) had unsatisfactory total phosphorus concentrations with 22% showing an increasing trend;

Estuaries and Coastal Waters

- over one-fifth (22%) of estuarine and coastal water bodies have unsatisfactory dissolved inorganic nitrogen (DIN) concentrations; the highest DIN concentrations are in the south and southeast of the country;

- loads of total nitrogen and total phosphorus to the marine environment from our rivers have increased by 24% (13,559 tonnes) and 31% (338 tonnes) respectively since 2012-2014;

Groundwaters

- over one-fifth (22%) of sites have high (>25mg/l N03) nitrate concentrations and three sites exceed the drinking water standard (50 mg/l N03);

- almost half (49%) of all sites have increasing nitrate concentrations for the period 2013 -2019;

- 8% of sites have unsatisfactory phosphate concentrations;

- the EPA’s Integrated Assessment 2020 which notes:

- nutrient pollution (caused by too much nitrogen and phosphorus in our waters) is the key water quality issue impacting on our rivers, lakes and estuaries;

- that there is a need to use less nitrogen fertiliser and use it more efficiently, given that for example 367,364 tonnes of nitrogen fertiliser were applied in 2019;

- some agricultural activities pose a significant risk to drinking water sources through the storage and use of pesticides and through microbial contamination;

- that drinking water quality is lower in private supplies, that private supplies mostly serve rural areas, and it is estimated that up to 30% of private wells in operation in Ireland are contaminated with E. coli; this lower quality can be caused by septic tanks, landspreading of slurry, animals grazing near the wellhead, and chemical and fuel storage tanks;

further notes:

- all policies regarding water must work in tandem with policy on climate and biodiversity;

- regarding biodiversity, action must be consistent with policies on protection and restoration as outlined in the Convention on Biological Diversity, as well as national and EU policy goals;

- regarding climate mitigation, the process of collecting, treating and supplying water and wastewater needs to decarbonise, including the climate cost of embodied carbon in new infrastructure;

- regarding climate adaptation, our water supply and wastewater treatment infrastructure must be protected from the effects of climate change;

and calls on the Government to provide for the management, treatment and distribution of safe water through systems in public or community ownership, ensuring the protection and restoration of the ecological status of water bodies.”

It is a huge honour to bring this motion before the Seanad today. It calls on the House to recognise that clean water is a basic human right of every inhabitant of this country and to acknowledge that access to clean water and sanitation is also a UN sustainable development goal to which Ireland has signed up. We must protect it from source to sea and everything along the way, including rivers, lakes and groundwater.

I will now go through the commitments we made in the programme for Government, many of which were agreed following engagement with various NGOs. As per the motion, Seanad Éireann notes the commitment to ensure that the provision of safe drinking water and the proper treatment of wastewater will remain a priority for this Government and to refer its place in the Constitution to the relevant joint committee for consideration. The Government is committed to retaining Irish Water in public ownership as a national, stand-alone, regulated utility and to ensuring that Irish Water is sufficiently funded to make the necessary investment in drinking water and wastewater infrastructure. This Government will mandate Irish Water to develop plans to ensure security of supply and sufficient capacity in drinking and wastewater networks to allow for balanced regional development and will fund Irish Water’s capital investment plan for drinking water and wastewater infrastructure on a multi-annual basis and deliver the €8.5 billion funding package committed to in Project Ireland 2040. The Government is committed to supporting the take-up of Irish Water’s small towns and villages growth programme 2020-2024, which will provide water and wastewater growth capacity in smaller settlements that would otherwise not be provided for in Irish Water’s capital investment plan and ensuring that the rural regeneration and development fund supports the development of such projects.

The programme for Government contains a commitment to support continued investment in reducing leakage across the network and to fully consider the review from the Commission for Regulation of Utilities, CRU, of Irish Water’s proposed approach to the water supply project for the eastern and midlands regions. The Government is committed to developing a scheme between local authorities and Irish Water to provide drinking water fountains nationwide to reduce plastic bottle litter, as modelled in Ennistymon, County Clare. The Government will continue to help fund upgrades to wells and domestic wastewater treatment systems, including septic tanks. The programme for Government further commits to review and work to improve the inspection regime for 500,000 domestic wastewater systems and incentivise upgrading works and to ensure that Irish Water progresses works to reduce the number of schemes on the remedial action list of the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA. This Government is committed to supporting Irish Water in its programme to remove lead pipes from the public supply system. It is also committed to ensuring that the State complies with the EU water framework directive which mandates a catchment-based approach to water resource management. Irish Water is mandated to implement this and must be sufficiently funded to do so.

The programme for Government also contains commitments to expand programmes, including the agriculture sustainability support and advisory programme, ASSAP, and work with farmers, industry, and advisory services, to protect and deliver badly needed improvements in water quality. The Government will launch a new revised and strengthened river basin management plan in 2022, drawing on a collaborative approach between all stakeholders. The Government is committed to ensuring that Irish Water develops drinking water safety plans to protect abstraction sources and reduce public health risks. This Government will continue to support the local authorities' water programmes and expand the community water development fund. In this context, the Government is committed to supporting the National Federation of Group Water Schemes to ensure that issues of quality and security of supply are addressed and to continuing investment in a multi-annual capital funding programme to improve the quality of drinking water in group water schemes, while protecting water quality.

The Government will support the work of the water services innovation fund, which aims to investigate solutions for promoting greater efficiency in water usage and will continue to work with An Fóram Uisce to review and develop water quality strategies. The Government will commission a range of research projects to explore innovative ways of improving our water infrastructure and reducing consumption.

The Government will reorient the agri-environment to deliver more in the short term on water quality through an ambitious eco scheme under pillar 1 of the CAP, rewarding farmers who deliver enhanced environmental performance, including improving water quality. The conclusion of the current CAP at the end of 2020 provides a significant opportunity to pilot this agri-environment scheme during the transition period, supported by additional Exchequer funding. The scheme will seek to include farmers not currently in the green low-carbon agri-environment scheme, GLAS, who previously participated in the agri-environment options scheme, AEOS, and those exiting GLAS. This pilot will inform the fate of the flagship agri-environment scheme for the next CAP. The Government will ensure that Bord na Móna is required to take into account climate, biodiversity and water objectives, as it delivers on its commercial mandate, through an amendment to the Turf Development Acts 1998.

In order for all of this great wish list which we have in the programme for Government to be implemented, it is vital that we do the following: infrastructure deficits in Ireland impact on the provision of safe and secure drinking water and this is why infrastructure investment is so important; infrastructure deficits lead to pollution and environmental damage; infrastructure deficits present a challenge to achieving sustainable development across urban and rural Ireland; continued investment in infrastructure coupled with innovative and modern approaches is absolutely necessary and fast becoming an emergency. The EPA Wastewater Treatment Report 2019 highlighted many issues including that 19 large urban areas failed to meet mandatory EU standards. These 19 areas generate more than half of Ireland’s sewage. Raw sewage from 35 towns and villages flows into our waters every day.

I ask that the House support this motion and that we work together as a whole House because water is life; it affects everybody, no matter what party they are in, if any. I look forward to the House supporting this motion today.

I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Noonan, to the House. I formally second the motion. In doing so, I acknowledge the near-lifelong commitment of the proposer, Senator Garvey. A schoolteacher by trade, she has visited hundreds of schools, especially in the counties of Galway and Clare, extolling the virtues and benefits, and emphasising how vital clean water is and how important water conservation is for us all.

That is because water is life. Without water we cannot live, nor can the millions of species which inhabit the Earth. If pollutants flow into the sea, including discharges of untreated wastewater, the coastlines wither. We have seen what happens in Dublin Bay when untreated effluent is discharged into the sea. Not only is it dangerous for swimmers but it is damaging fragile coastal ecosystems on which birds, sea plants and others depend. Ireland has a rich diversity of ecosystems and wildlife in its lands, its freshwater and its marine environments. Much of Ireland's richest diversity can be found in the marine environment where there are high numbers of whale and dolphin species, large seabird breeding colonies and cold water coral communities in the deep seas.

Peatland restoration policies will contribute to the regulation and flow of quality water. In my home county of Kildare, we are working on an initiative to establish a new peatlands park. This is because County Kildare has the scientific, educational and the tourism infrastructure to be not just a gateway but the heartland of the national peatlands park of Ireland. This will recognise and celebrate our peatlands' cultural and ecological heritage and ongoing contribution to our economy and society in the midlands.

Buffer strips along water bodies are often used to reduce the run-off of nutrients, chemicals and sediments from farming. Vegetation in the landscape supports local climates, including rainfall and groundwater infiltration, as well as water security for farming and livestock.

From studies and analysis carried out by the EPA, the implications of overuse of fertilisers are very clear. They show damaging concentrations of these nutrients in our watercourses. Eminent Kildare environmentalist Lorraine Benson is on record as saying the era of over-polluting must come to an end. We must rebalance nature and return the land, our water and our ecosystems to a natural equilibrium.

The most recent data on water quality were provided from 2019 by the EPA in the water quality indicators report, which highlighted that agricultural activities are the most significant source of pollution in Irish waters, with a direct impact on 53% of the 1,460 water bodies monitored. While agri-environmental schemes are helpful and to be welcomed, the issue is that there is too much fertiliser and slurry being spread across huge areas of the country. What is necessary is a fundamental shift in intensive farming practice and a recognition of the issues and the ambitious actions required to remedy the problem.

In remedying the problem, farmers, who are doing their best in tough, challenging times, must be incentivised. We are pushing an open door with farmers but we must incentivise the custodians of the land to make what I am suggesting feasible. We have to support farmers. In order to get where we want to go, there should be no diminution in quality of life or income for farmers. I know and can safely say that the proposer of the motion, Senator Garvey, who is from rural Ireland, would 100% advocate that. Farmers need support. If they are given it, they will rise further to the challenge.

As the national environment officer with An Taisce, Dr. Elaine McGoff, recently stated, significant changes will be necessary in our agricultural model if we are to align it with policies such as the EU farm-to-fork and biodiversity strategy. It will require concrete action and difficult decisions, not just noble ambition.

I look forward to a robust debate. Motions have a place in this House, as have Bills. The Green Party has a number of Bills coming before the House in the next couple of months, all going well. Of all the motions one can think of, is there anything more important than the water that keeps us all alive? We should set aside a regular time to debate water, the quality of water, and how to improve it for the betterment of society. The Opposition does not need any advice from me, but it should hold the Government to account and challenge the Government. At the end of the day, there is a way to achieve a win-win. A rising tide lifts all boats. Striving for and achieving improvement in our water system in producing cleaner, safer water is a win-win for this generation and for generations to come.

I welcome the Minister of State and thank him for his time. I also thank the proposers for the motion. What is interesting about the motion is that it is a carbon copy of what is in the programme for Government. I keep the programme for Government on my desk, look at it every day and tick off its contents to see how they are being achieved. It is early days yet, not even a year since the Government was formed, so we have to be fair and reasonable in opposition. We have to allow time for the new system, personnel and policies to bed in.

I take up the great challenge Senator Martin talked about. He said the Opposition needs to challenge. We need to challenge, but we need to do so in a responsible way and we need to give the Government time. What is interesting about this motion is that every word of it is contained in the programme for Government on pages 40 and 41.

I have taken a copy of them, which I have with me should any Member wish to challenge me. It is interesting that only a few sentences were left out. That tells its own story.

The sentences are as follows. On page 40, under the heading of "Conservation", it is stated: "The Government will continue to provide a generous free allowance of water to every citizen to meet their basic everyday needs and provide an extra free allocation to people with specific health needs." That is one of the five sentences that were left out. The second reads that the Government will: "Conduct a feasibility study examining how further assistance can be given to low-income households for the installation of water efficient appliances." Again, for the record of the House and for the benefit of the stenographers, the sentences are on page 40 of the programme for Government, should anyone wish to check. There is another section about energy that is not mentioned and one on forestry, which I will not go into. Two or three sentences were missing. That is telling. I have not yet been able to find out why they were missing, which is of concern to me.

I agree with everything in this motion. I have no difficulty with it. I want to zone in on a few points. In particular, I wish to focus on Irish Water. We know what Irish Water it responsible for the production of over 608 billion litres of fresh water each year. It is also responsible for wastewater treatment before it is returned to our rivers and the sea. Water services are essential to the daily lives of our citizens and to our economy. We all know that and agree with it. It is no big mystery. They are critical to achieving sustainable development and a clean environment and to protecting the environment. It is important that we address the issues at hand. I will specifically spend my time addressing the issues relating to Irish Water.

Irish Water administers this amazing resource for us. We must be conscious of the needs and expectations of the citizens in respect of water, and specifically fresh water supply, both commercial and domestic. We must ensure that we recognise international standards in respect of water, whether they relate to environmental concerns, water consumption, health, and all those issues. We must also support the principles of social, economic and environmental sustainability. Nobody has a problem with that.

I now wish to turn to the Water Sector Transformation Policy Paper, entitled Irish Water: Towards a National, Publicly-Owned, Regulated Water Services Utility, which was published on the Government's website on 23 February 2021. I am now displaying the cover of the document so that it is clear for all Members tomorrow and the next day what we were talking about and what might have been suggested. The paper states that the Government will amend legislation to make Irish Water a publicly-owned, national stand-alone company. It raises serious concerns about the 3,200 local government workers, who are groundsmen, grafters, engineers, plumbers and administrators.

This group of people are on the ground. Our 31 local authorities have done an exceptionally good job. I have spoken to many local authority councillors, chief executives and members of staff. They have talked about the importance of knowledge transfer and what is happening on the ground in these 31 local authorities. They have talked about the importance of their relationships with city and county councillors. They have also spoken of their concerns in relation to Irish Water when they face a problem.

Interestingly, as part of my research, I came upon a case that was reported in The Clare Echo. It detailed that in Miltown Malbay in County Clare, which the Senator knows very well, residents went without fresh water for 72 hours in February of this year. It was reported that there was complete uncertainty and a lack of knowledge as to what was happening and when the fresh water supply would return. I have also heard about a case in Lettermore in Connemara, County Galway, in which over 900 homes were issued with boil water notices for a whole month. When local authority staff tried to get an answer from Irish Water as to what was happening, nobody had one. In essence, what I am saying is that the value of water is important.

I thank the trade union movement which has been heavily involved in this work and in supporting the local authority workers. I want to see greater emphasis on, and support for, the workers in these local authorities. I want to see greater continuity between Irish Water and local authorities so that we can deliver good quality, fresh and healthy water, and protect our environment.

I have no difficulty in fully accepting what the proposers of the motion are attempting to do, which is to reinstate what is policy in the programme for Government, which should come as no surprise. I wish the Government collectively every success with its policy as set out in the motion.

I welcome the Minister of State, who is passionate about trying to address the issues in the motion. I do not think there is any Senator, as Senator Martin said, who is more passionate about water and water quality than Senator Garvey. The Minister of State will recall that she and I tabled a Commencement matter on this last year.

The commitment in the programme for Government on water and water quality, as Senator Boyhan has said, is very strong. It is very clear the Government will have to deliver. It is pretty clear, even if any of us forget it, that Senator Boyhan knows it line by line and will hold us to account on it. I agree with a number of Senator Boyhan's points on Irish Water. Irish Water makes sense in terms of dealing with major infrastructure projects but taking away the daily maintenance of the system was a mistake. When local authorities had responsibility, it was easy for a councillor or anyone else to ring up the local engineer to say there was a leak on a particular road or a problem with the water supply and the engineer was able to address it. It was a mistake to take those powers away from local government, which had maintained our water system for 120 years. We needed a national agency to deal with water infrastructure and this is very clear. We need major investment in water infrastructure. I entirely agree with the comments made by previous speakers so I will not repeat them.

I will put this issue in the context of our rural future, the Government strategy, strategies on remote working and how we will get balanced regional development. If we are to get balanced regional development and people living in our small villages and rural communities, what we need are the three "Ws". We need Wi-Fi, water and wastewater. If we are to move away from the strategy of one-off rural housing, and I do not want to get into that debate here, and encourage people to live in nearby villages to ensure those villages are sustainable, then we have to have water and wastewater supplies in those villages. In most places throughout the country, and the Minister of State knows Kilkenny, which is the same as Clare, Wexford, Waterford or any other county, those villages do not have the water and wastewater supply. I look at my area of north Wexford, where we have huge demand for housing in Gorey and the water system is under pressure. In only one village in all of the surrounding areas is there any water or wastewater capacity. People cannot live in their local village. It is incumbent on the Government to address the question of water and wastewater infrastructure for our small villages if we are to have any form of balanced regional development. There is no point in talking about our future rural strategy if we do not put that infrastructure in place.

We often hear the statistics, and Senator Garvey was correct. When we look at the EPA figures that are published annually, which are about how our rivers and water supplies are deteriorating in places, the most recent figures show that 53% of rivers, half of our lakes and only 38% of our estuaries have satisfactory ecological health. For a country that is supposed to value water that is not good enough. We often speak about these statistics but we when we think about the real impact I am very conscious of the Ounavarra River that flows into Courtown Harbour near my home. Earlier this year, there was an oil spill that had huge knock-on implications for the ecological life of the river and for local fishermen and fisherwomen who wanted to fly fish in the river. The river flows out into the sea. We are very fortunate that Seal Rescue Ireland is based in Courtown Harbour and it has a concern about the oil that will continue to flow.

If we are going to speak about protecting our blue flags and the importance of our blue flag beaches, addressing some of these challenges is very important.

We cannot stress enough how important that is, not just in its own right, but in how it impacts on many other aspects of Irish life.

I wish to make two further comments, the first of which is on the important role of the group water schemes and the community and voluntary work done in that regard across the country. Interestingly, the role played by women, particularly that of the Irish Countrywomen's Association, in the development of rural water schemes is often under-acknowledged. These schemes have done a great deal to clean up our water down to the years and it is important that support be made available to them.

Second, clean water is not just important nationally. As a country, we should continue to advocate strongly for clean water globally. Some 700 million people do not have access to clean drinking water and approximately 2.5 billion lack sanitation. I am happy that our overseas development aid policy prioritises clean water. For example, we support the UNICEF project in Zambia and Liberia. The challenge of ensuring clean water globally will be significant. Climate change has an impact on it, just as it does here. Consider the salinisation of the Bangladesh delta and what is happening in parts of Africa. Globally, we need to be a beacon of light on the question of clean water.

I strongly commend Senator Garvey, who is a wonderful advocate on this issue, and I support the motion. I urge that all of the commitments in the programme for Government, which Senator Boyhan can rightly quote, be implemented but that we also go beyond them.

I welcome the Minister of State and commend my Green Party colleagues on tabling a comprehensive Private Members' motion for consideration. The motion is consistent with the comprehensive water policy commitments set out in the Programme for Government: Our Shared Future. The Senators have rightly included the detail of all of those in the motion. Strong progress is being made in delivering on that broad range of water policy commitments. Over the coming years, we will develop, enhance and improve our water services and the protection of water quality by enacting legislation and strengthening investment programmes through Irish water.

The main thrust of the motion calls for greater investment in the quality of our water service systems and in protecting the quality of our water bodies. Since 2014, Irish Water and our local authorities have been working hard on unifying our systems. There are some who question the merits or demerits of that work, but we all agree that having a world class water system that is integrated and has full investment is positive.

The White Paper that the Government agreed to last month charts the future for Irish Water. The Minister of State will agree that, in that context, it is important that the negotiations between all parties be handled delicately and that staff be at their centre. We need to bring people with us on this journey. Along with many other matters, the protection of terms and conditions must be achieved. I wish everyone involved in the negotiations over the coming months well in implementing the White Paper in a manner that is agreeable to all.

There has been substantial investment in our water services. Further investment is earmarked in the national development plan and Project Ireland 2040.

A total of €14 billion will be required, out to the mid-2030s, for investment to bring our water system up to the required standard.

I agree with the mention in the motion of Irish Water's small towns and villages growth programme, which is crucial to providing water and wastewater processing to those areas that would not necessarily get the investment through the investment programmes of Irish Water. In that context, it is important to note that development plans are being devised by local authorities across the country and it will be important for Irish Water to follow the lead of local authorities in their development plans, as opposed to the other way around, whereby Irish Water might try to dictate to local authorities about investment priorities. I ask the Minister of State to take that message on board.

We must be careful at all times when talking about the impact of agriculture on water supplies. I have always found the agricultural community to be willing to change and to embrace that change. They have done this for generations and I have absolutely no doubt that they will do it in future. There is, however, a tendency on the part of some outside the Chamber to try to talk down to the agricultural community, saying it is the problem and the reason for all the ills. As politicians, we all know the only way we can bring people along is to have dialogue and incentivise people. I have absolutely no doubt that if we do this, the agricultural community will not be found wanting in this regard.

In respect of the rural water services programme, it is estimated that 11% of Irish people get their water from private water supplies. I raised a Commencement matter in this regard after Christmas, to which the Minister of State, Deputy Peter Burke, responded. There is an 85% grant of up to €5,000 for sinking a new well and it is generally sufficient but the €1,000 treatment grant where there is poor water quality is not sufficient in many cases. The Minister of State indicated this would be reviewed after 12 months, which will be in June and I ask the Minister to take this on board. We need to look at revising the criteria and at inserting an "and-or" clause, in order that the funding can be used for either a new well or treatment or both, in light of the fact that treatment often costs more than €1,000.

I wish the Minister of State well and I thank my colleagues in the Green Party for bringing forward this very important motion on water quality.

I may not use all my time. I thank the Green Party Members for putting down this motion. As somebody from the inner city, every time I hear Senator Garvey speak, either on water or biodiversity, I tend to learn much and see things from a perspective with which I would not have naturally come into contact. Personally, I think of anything outside the canals as being a rural area. This motion, together with Senator Garvey's motion on biodiversity, is comprehensive and informative. I pay tribute to the Green Party Senators for their Private Members' motions.

Like others, I hope agreement can be reached between Irish Water and local authority members before the July deadline. From a Labour Party perspective, it is critical that the terms and conditions of workers in local authorities are protected. We also support the idea of a referendum to ensure Irish Water stays in public ownership, if that was not clear from the past number of years.

That has always been a long-term position of the Labour Party because we cannot leave something as important and fundamental as water to the vagaries of the market. With that in mind, we need to have a conversation about our investment in water infrastructure, which has reached a crisis point and, with climate change gaining speed, is likely to reach even more of a crisis point. Meaningful water quality has to mean investing in upgrades of pre-existing wastewater treatment plants. There is no point in talking about a revamped national development plan and national planning framework with bespoke solutions for increased housing in places such as Cork, Waterford and Galway if the infrastructure is not there to deliver the increased capacity that would be required to build those houses.

I now move to the important public health issue of wastewater discharge into our environment and the important investment that is needed in this regard. Last September, the Water Advisory Body basically admonished Irish Water and the Government for their slowness in addressing the legacy defects in Ireland's wastewater treatment infrastructure. The Water Advisory Body stated that the pace at which Irish Water was doing so "is too slow and there are repeated delays in providing treatment to many areas", that "19 large towns and cities ... [do] not meet European Union standards set to protect the environment" and that 33 towns and villages will continue to discharge raw sewage after 2021 because they will still not have a wastewater treatment plant.

One thing I have seen during the Covid pandemic has been the increased popularity of sea swimming, but with that comes a greater focus on the quality of the water in Dublin Bay, which is a biosphere. SOS Dublin Bay last month published a survey it had done of swimmers in the area. In March, 1,200 people were interviewed, and 21.8% of the participants declared they had been ill or had suffered adverse health effects as a result of swimming in the sea daily, which should be the safest, or at least a semi-safe, natural and normal thing to do. SOS Dublin Bay analysed data between 2017 and 2020 which it says show that 8.9 cu. m of untreated sewage and stormwater was discharged into Dublin Bay, mainly from the Ringsend treatment plant. To put that into context for people such as me who are not experts in this area, it means 3,550 full-sized Olympic swimming pools of untreated water over the four-year period, or 74 every month, dumped into Dublin Bay.

We need to get serious about investment in water infrastructure. I am certain that the Green Party in government will prioritise and progress this, but we all need to have a long-term commitment to this. For all the debate surrounding Irish Water in 2016 and 2017, from which I am still traumatised, one of the things I think everybody on a cross-party basis agreed was that Irish Water needs to stay in public ownership and we need to invest in our water system because it is at a critical crisis point. When any long-term weather event takes place, be it snow or too much sun, we tend to have water shortages. We need to work on a cross-party basis in the House to ensure we invest in that water infrastructure. It is not necessarily popular and it is not often called for but it is absolutely critical to future growth and the health of our population.

I add my voice to the welcome for this motion brought forward by the Green Party. It opens by stating that Seanad Éireann "recognises that clean water is a basic human right of every inhabitant of this country". I completely agree, but it is incumbent on states to give effect to such rights. In 2010, there was a resolution before the UN General Assembly and, unfortunately, the Irish Government, of which the Green Party and Fianna Fáil were both members at the time, abstained on it. Thankfully, it passed without the support of the Irish State, but in 2014 the very successful European Citizens' Initiative gathered 1.8 million signatures from citizens across the EU member states calling for that right to be recognised in EU law.

The European Commission then ignored the Right2Water European Citizens' Initiative. In 2015, I was the rapporteur for the report passed by the European Parliament that echoed the calls from citizens across EU member states for the human right to water and sanitation to be recognised in EU law.

It is now 2021 and the EU and Ireland have yet to give effect to the UN resolution on the human right to water and sanitation. We have a proud history with regard to the right to water in this country. People were not going to take regressive water charges lying down. They mobilised through trade unions, civil society organisations and community groups and built a real movement in the form of Right2Water Ireland. Those mobilisations we saw were the largest in the history of the State and they caught the attention of water rights movements across the globe, including in Bolivia, the US, Canada, Italy, Spain and Germany.

International organisations such as Food & Water Watch as well as the Blue Planet Project co-founder and author of multiple books on the human right to water, Maude Barlow, rightly praised zero water poverty in Ireland as being a direct result of not having domestic water charges. I have spoken in many countries and engaged with multiple academics about household metering not reducing water use and in some cases actually having the opposite effect of increasing usage. Not only that, but individual household meters add to the cost of water provision, whereas district metering facilitates leak identification without significantly increasing the cost of water provision.

I will use the rest of my time to highlight some other areas of concern regarding water, specifically data centres. Owned by large multinationals, such as Facebook and Amazon, these centres use vast amounts of water. As Killian Woods reported last summer in the Business Post, these facilities require "millions of litres of water every day to cool down their servers". That revelation came after a hosepipe ban had been introduced to cut back on household water usage due to drought conditions.

I highlighted some of the issues with data centres previously, especially regarding their impact on our greenhouse gas, GHG, emissions and increasing demand on the grid. It all boils down to the fact that the planning authorities, which are local authorities and An Bord Pleanála, are not required to take account of the cumulative impact these data centres are having on our infrastructure and on reaching our climate targets. Instead, they can only consider each data centre individually on its own merits, including with regard to water usage. The usage of a data centre may not seem huge but the cumulative effect is considerable.

Climate change also means that Ireland is becoming more susceptible to water scarcity. This is especially the case in the eastern part of the country, the region that has seen the mushrooming of data centres in recent years. Environmental impact assessments, EIAs, fail to consider this, as An Taisce has correctly highlighted. The UN resolution on the right to water obliges states to take deliberate action to prevent third parties such as corporations from interfering in any way with the enjoyment of the right to water. However, we have a Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, headed by the Tánaiste, Deputy Varadkar, which is enthusiastically encouraging more of these data centres to be established here without putting adequate protections in place.

I also raise the issue of the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement, CETA, and the threat it poses to the right to water. The UN special rapporteur on the human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation has remarked that states, in entering into agreements regarding trade and investment, must ensure that such agreements do not limit or hinder a country's capacity to ensure the full realisation of human rights to water and sanitation. We must be alive to the threat that CETA poses to our water and sanitation.

We oppose investment treaties that prioritise corporate rights over human rights. The arbitration chapters of trade agreements like CETA allow private companies to sue governments for legislation which affects their legitimate expectations of profit. There have already been significant investment disputes regarding water under the Energy Charter Treaty, ECT, and the North American Free Trade Agreement, NAFTA, with both cases resulting in settlements in favour of investors and against the states in question. Article 1.9 of CETA clearly states: "If a Party permits the commercial use of a specific water source, it shall do so in a manner consistent with this Agreement." Commercial use is, therefore, subject to CETA trade and investment rules. Under CETA's negative list, all public services are threatened because they are all covered in the agreement unless explicitly ruled out by the Government. The Government has made no effort to protect the ownership or regulation of education, health, water, transport, waste disposal, oil, gas, energy and-or grids, among other important sectors.

As I thought I had more time, I also want to move on to the issue of fracking, which wreaks havoc on water supplies. We need to have a ban on the importation of fracked gas. We have heard commitments from the Government that it will do so. Will it be like co-living? Is the Government just going to flag it up so the companies can get their applications in before the ban comes into place? We know that the Shannon liquefied natural gas, LNG, terminal is still on the projects of common interest, PCI, list until September 2021. Therefore, we need that ban on the importation of fracked gases. We have rightly banned fracked gas here because of its impact on water. We cannot now allow other communities to suffer their water sources being polluted.

It was W.H. Auden who said, "Thousands have lived without love, not one without water." I am not suggesting that any of us should live without some love in our lives but we certainly would not live without having access to water.

I commend my colleagues from the Green Party, namely, Senators Garvey and Martin, on bringing this motion before the House today. It is very important and certainly one that my party supports without any shadow of a doubt. It is consistent with the comprehensive water quality commitments set out in the programme for Government.

The overall policy approach of the Government is based on a shared understanding that a significant programme of transformation is absolutely necessary to ensure that modern and effective systems for the delivery of water and wastewater services develop over time in Ireland. Indeed, in my town in Newbridge at the moment, we have roadworks all over the place because of the delivery of a €38 million project extending the water and wastewater system. While we can constantly be negative about roadworks or being stopped in our paths in terms of traversing the town, it is still absolutely crucial to recognise the importance of that investment in the infrastructure and how important it is that we all have access to a safe and secure supply of water.

Many of us will have had experiences otherwise. I remember, perhaps ten years ago in Rathangan, that for four full days nobody in the village had access to any water whatsoever in the middle of the hot summer. When something like that impacts on us, we know absolutely to our detriment how important and vital water is to our very being. While the supply of water to our homes is hugely important, having clean water around us is also essential. I am very lucky to live close to a canal and a river. We see the water sports that are available and we have seen so many people, particularly over the last 12 months, rediscovering swimming, etc. It is important that all our waterways are kept clean in order that we can all avail of them in the way we wish.

This motion, therefore, is an opportunity to set out the progress that is being made on our water services by the Government. It is fair to say and to acknowledge that strong progress is being made on the broad range of water policy commitments aimed at developing and improving water services and protecting the quality of our water environment by advancing appropriate policy and legislative reforms, and by strengthening our investment programmes.

I know the Government recently approved a policy paper on Irish Water and that the Minister, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, brought forward a further paper to the Cabinet committee on the environment on proposals for Ireland's third river basin plan. The infrastructure is hugely important. I know this is close to the Minister of State's heart. Rolling out the necessary networks in rural Ireland are hugely important. Allenwood South is an area that has grown quite substantially in recent years.

Unfortunately, there has been no extension of the waste water system there although it has been waiting for the past 15 years. A predecessor of mine, the late Deputy Michael Fitzpatrick, spoke many times in this Chamber about that necessity. Newtown in Rathangan is another area in which there has been a lot of development but they are all single houses with their own septic tanks and we should have moved on from that at this point.

The substantial investment that is already earmarked as part of the national development plan is of great importance but we need to look more at some rural areas. The national development plan estimates that close to €14 billion will be required over the period from now to the mid-2030s. This is to meet known investment needs to support the continued operation, repair and upgrading of the country's water and waste water infrastructure, to support social and economic development and most importantly, the protection of the water environment.

I know the Department is currently working with partners across the Government to ensure that Ireland's third river basin management plan delivers on our obligation to reverse decline in water quality - that is extremely important – including through coherence with actions to address climate change and biodiversity objectives. There is a need to invest in developing a legislative code for the water environment that is fit for purpose and addresses the many issues identified by the European Commission in its infringement actions against Ireland, while also giving effect to updated directives on drinking water and urban waste water.

I wish to share my time with Senator Kyne.

Is that three minutes each?

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Noonan, to the House. I thank the Green Party for bringing forward this important motion today. I grew up in an area where water was very scarce, and we spent our summers filling water for cattle and digging wells. Then we had the advent of the group water schemes and they played a very important role throughout the length and breadth of the country. They provided a great source of water for farmers and communities at large. Group water schemes made mistakes at the beginning, but they made big advances. As an extensive county like Mayo could not always justify a large public water scheme, the group water schemes came into being and they filled the gap where the State was not able to provide water. In many cases the State made large contributions to group water schemes as well.

I wish to be parochial and speak about a new group water scheme for Downpatrick, just outside Ballycastle, County Mayo, for 29 houses. Those involved are at a loss as to the reason they cannot advance the scheme but it is due to the lack of finance. The scheme is very small. The area suffers from naturally occurring iron oxide and arsenic in the water. This is a very scenic part of the country that includes Downpatrick Head, which is a focal point from a tourism point of view and is visited by thousands of tourists every year. The public toilets that are provided are dry, which is surprising in this day and age. The people involved in the scheme cannot drink the water, use it for washing clothes or taking showers. They tried several approaches, including developing a small scheme themselves and they have dug wells but the corrosive nature of the iron oxide and the arsenic affects the pipes and a well might only last a couple of years. A scheme has been presented to the Department, which has contributed up to €10,000 per house, but those concerned are short of approximately €130,000 for the scheme in addition to what the Department is willing to give at present.

I ask the Minister of State to look favourably on this scheme. These people are in dire straits and suffering greatly. In this day and age, they cannot drink the water or use it to have a shower or wash their clothes. In one of the most scenic parts of Ireland, there are dry toilets. I hope the Minister of State will take this scheme for Downpatrick on board.

I welcome the Minister of State. I live approximately 7 miles from Eyre Square. At 45 years of age, I can remember heading over to the neighbour's as a young lad to get buckets of water from the well and turn on pumps to pump water from the river. Fortunately, group water schemes were put in place throughout rural Ireland in the 1970s and 1980s. There was very much a hands-on approach by rural residents to improve their lot, with support from local authorities and the State. It was not much appreciated during the debate on the establishment of Irish Water and the introduction of water charges that people in rural Ireland had done so much to improve their lot and avail of clean drinking water.

When I was elected to Galway County Council in 2004, there was a huge list of wastewater projects that had not been developed across County Galway. There are still some projects to be completed but, fortunately, in the intervening period, and certainly since the establishment of Irish Water, there has been much progress on a range of schemes, including in Headford, Claregalway, Milltown, Oughterard, Leenane, Letterfrack, Clifden and Kinvara. There are other areas that need work, some of which Irish Water is progressing through planning permission, including in An Cheathrú Rua, where there are difficulties in terms of planning, An Spidéal, where planning has been granted, and Roundstone, where the process is under way. Other areas like Clarenbridge, which is a fine town that has a network, do not have a proper sewerage scheme. There is still an amount of work to be done.

One of my concerns regarding Irish Water is that it is very much focused, for financial reasons and out of necessity, because of pressure from the EPA on dealing with the list of towns and villages with which the agency has issues. There must be more strategic thinking in terms of areas that need to be primed for development. For example, what was called the east Galway main drainage scheme, which is east of Galway city and encompasses the Athenry, Clarenbridge and Oranmore areas, is a strategic project for delivery, involving areas that are identified for growth in Galway city and environs in the national planning framework. It is very much a critical project that Irish Water needs to take hold of and deliver.

I welcome the Green Party's motion. We all agree on the absolute necessity of clean drinking water and treated waste water and ensuring we get the continued investment needed to provide these very important projects, both small-scale and large-scale, in our cities, towns and villages. I commend the Green Party on its motion.

I welcome the Minister of State. I very much welcome Senator Garvey's motion, which is extremely important for everybody. It gives all of us an opportunity to speak about the importance of water and how sometimes, in the Irish context, we waste it. In my own home, we often had to tell the children when they were younger to turn off the taps. One sees that going on in lots of houses. Every single one of us should have an awful lot more respect for water. It is desperate the way we treat what is probably the most important resources in all our lives.

This debate represents a fantastic opportunity to put our points of view across and support Senator Garvey's motion, as my party is doing. The budget of €1.2 billion for Irish Water - it certainly will need much more in the coming years, as other speakers have stated - is a step in the right direction. We must ensure that everybody has a clean, quality water supply. I will refer to my own county in this regard.

In 2015, we had 13 major water supplies on the remedial action list. By 2019-20 every one of them had been remediated. In one case, in Ballinlough, west Roscommon, 3,000 people were on a boil water notice for two years. At that time, RTÉ and others were reporting every second week from Roscommon about boil water notices. People went through sheer hell. There is no doubt about that. In some cases, water tankers had to be brought in to supply people. We are sometimes critical of our local authorities and Irish Water. If there was ever a time when officials from Irish Water and our local authorities were deserving of a pat on the back, it was in respect of their remediation of the 13 water supply issues in Roscommon in 2015. I know there is still some work to be done in the county but that work was a major step forward.

There is another area about which we need to be careful. I refer to the Irish Water public water supply monitoring programme. A recent report referenced a situation in the Ballinasloe area where the water was affected by pesticides. I am sure Senator Dolan is aware of that report. In the Ballinasloe-Connemara area there were nine instances of the pesticide limit having been exceeded in the public water supply. As Senator Dolan will be aware, in the Ballinasloe area much of the supply comes from the River Suck. I know from my horticultural work that products such as MCPA and 2,4-D are horrendous products. The problem was caused by run-off from those products. Many farmers are very careful. Some farmers told me recently that they want to reduce their use of nitrogen. A form of urea is available now that is not as damaging, but farmers are concerned about run-offs. As I mentioned earlier, there have been run-offs into rivers that support the public water supply. We have to ensure they do not occur. We must work towards having a supply that is safe for everybody.

It is good to have the Minister of State here to debate this important and positive motion. I will work will all Members to ensure all of our citizens have a good and safe public water supply.

I wish to share time with Senator Conway.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I welcome the Minister of State and I thank Senator Garvey for tabling a fantastic motion regarding our access to clean water and to sanitation. As she pointed out, this is a United Nations sustainable development goal.

I support the motion, which is part of the programme for Government. It is important that we protect water from sea to source. I understand €8.5 billion has been committed from 2018 to 2027 and that a further €14 million is being provided for lead piping and so on. I welcome this commitment. We need to see it rolled out very quickly.

I work with Galway and Roscommon county councils. As referenced by Senator Eugene Murphy, we have a lot of experience of poor water, particularly in Ballinasloe where I come from, which was top of the EPA list in that our drinking water did not meet the criteria. My parents have filters in the house and we have always brought in bottled water.

I have a couple of questions for the Minister of State, all of which he may not be able to answer today. I am curious about the service level agreements, SLAs, with the local authorities and Irish Water. Are they working and what is the long-term plan in that regard?

Is funding in place for group water scheme infrastructure? We still have quite a lot of issues with group water schemes, particularly in east Galway and, I am sure, in County Roscommon, and I am thinking of Caltra in particular. Local authority members are trying to do their best but there are significant delays in engaging with some of the owners of group water schemes on the measures they want to implement and some of the capital infrastructure they need for the piping. It is shocking to think that some of the pipes are more than 50 years old.

I want to raise the quality of water and a decision made on Friday that shocked everyone in Ballinasloe with regard to a waste transfer station. It is located in low-lying flood plains close to the River Suck. Planning permission was granted for the facility in 2016. I am part of a community group that has fought this for the past four years. Permission was granted last Friday in spite of numerous expert reports submitted about the impact on the water supply. We won in the High Court in 2018 because of the adverse impact on our water. The River Bunowen flows into the River Suck, from where the drinking water is taken. This is what the people in the area drink. We just got the all-clear from the EPA on water, yet a decision was made to allow this. Is there sufficient planning expertise in the local authorities in these areas with regard to the impact on local communities?

I welcome the Minister of State to the House. I commend my county colleague and friend, Senator Garvey, on tabling one of the most substantial Private Members' motions I have seen. It is very important. I recall when investment was planned a long number of years ago when I started in the House, and the Irish Water model was proposed. People protested in the streets. Paying for water is appropriate if people can afford it because it is a finite resource. It is not limitless and costs money to purify. It is regrettable to think that of the €1.2 billion spent two or three years ago to purify our water, €600 million went to waste because of poor infrastructure and leaking pipes. Irish Water is doing its best to some degree. Certainly any time I have engaged with it on humanitarian issues, when people have found themselves in difficulty because of significant leakages but were not in a position to discharge the bill, it has very much had an open door to listening to the stories and working with them to find a resolution. I acknowledge this because Irish Water can often be criticised, a lot of the time justifiably so but certainly sometimes not.

I come from County Clare where a number of villages need new group water schemes and improved infrastructure. These include Doolin, Cooraclare, Carrigaholt and Broadford. These villages cannot develop any further because they will not get planning permission because of the poor waste water and water facilities infrastructure. We have had meetings with the Minister, Deputy O'Brien, on this particular issue. We were told there may be a pilot scheme but we are still waiting for the details of it. Such a pilot scheme would be welcome. I can speak about these four villages in Clare off the top of my head but there are probably another 40 that could benefit from investment. If we are serious about regenerating rural Ireland, and I acknowledge much has happened and there is much genuine commitment to doing so with announcements as late as this morning in this regard, we have to get the infrastructure right. There is no point building a house unless the foundation is secure. The foundation of any village is to have good quality drinking water and proper waste water infrastructure. This has gone on for too long.

It has gone on for decades. I spoke to Madeleine Taylor-Quinn, who was a Deputy for County Clare in the 1980s. This was an issue in the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s and it is still an issue. It is time for it to be grappled with and dealt with head on once and for all.

I thank the Senator.

The investment of billions of euro that will be required will have to be borrowed and invested in these villages. We will see a dividend and a payback in due course from properly managed economic development within villages.

Thank you, Senator.

It is difficult to stop some Senators in full flow, as it were, because those of us representing areas outside the capital in particular feel the effects of the legacy of poor management of water. I completely agree that it is time for this issue to be grappled with. I would almost give up my time to allow Senator Conway to speak further on the issue because I can see his passion.

Senator Garvey has really led on this issue. One of the first things she said on entering the Seanad was that her number one priority was water. It is so appropriate that it is her motion before the House today because this is not just about a motion, it is about the actions that will back that up over her time in government. The motion really lays that down for all to see.

I thank the Minister of State, Deputy Noonan, for coming to the House. I know this is one of the issues about which he is really passionate. The Green Party Members are here in blue today. It is appropriate that we are here in blue because this is about water. The issue of water might not be at the top of the agenda for members of green parties in other parts of the world but as an island nation where 20% of the land is wetland, this is the number one green issue because water gives us life, but also because 40% of species here are reliant on wetlands, rivers, lakes and seas for their survival. It is 100% down our alley as members of the Green Party that we get this right.

That is why it is important to mention all the things that have been achieved so far. Previous speakers have mentioned some of them. Senator Cummins stated that it is important to recognise what has been done already while the Government has been in power. The White Paper was released last month. It is appropriate that we do not go into the details of it, but it shows that this is a priority. There is so much in the programme for Government on the issue of water that I feel very confident that we will tackle these issues. One of the first lines of the motion notes the commitment in the programme for Government to refer this issue to a joint Oireachtas committee. That is the right place for it. Let us have a proper all-party conversation on the issue of water, which is so essential to life.

According to a 2019 report produced by the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, half of water in this country is not being treated correctly. That is a significant proportion. It is about life but it is also about the homelessness and housing crises. In rural Ireland in particular, we are very much dependent on getting water right in order to get houses right. As regards Gaeltacht areas, we cannot properly invest in Gaeltacht areas, in tourism or small businesses in Connemara until we get wastewater treatment right. Senator Kyne mentioned many of the ongoing projects and I really look froward to seeing those progress.

Senator O'Loughlin quoted W.H. Auden. I am going to be somewhat poetic as well. I was listening to RTÉ Lyric FM this morning and heard Marty Whelan speaking about the fact that in the 1980s no one had heard of bottled water. Now we all know about bottled water. That is partly because there is a problem with our water but it is also because the trust and confidence of people have been lost when it comes to the quality of water, and rightly so in the context of reports such as that from the EPA.

From an international and global perspective, some countries are in drought as a result of climate change. It is predominantly women and children who are impacted by drought in some of the poorest parts of those countries. That is a consequence of climate change. These things go hand in hand. It is about investing in Irish Water but it is also about getting the climate right if we are to get water back to where we need it to be.

The investment in Irish Water of €1.3 billion in 2021 by the Government restores the previous levels of investment. That shows that this is not a motion about what we will do but that these measures are already being taken by those of us in government. One of the legacies of our three parties in government will be sorting out this problem. We have had a negative legacy up to now when it comes to water but the effort being put into this issue means that coming out of government we will have sorted it out.

I thank the Minister of State for coming into the House to listen to everybody's views. I know he is an expert in the area and I can see that he is taking it all in. I look forward to engaging with him further on it. I thank my colleague, Senator Garvey, for putting a great deal of work into this issue over many months, and even years.

I propose to share time with Senator Ward.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I very much welcome the motion. The Green Party motions are always very long and informative and we learn a good deal from them. I thank Senator Garvey for it. It is very good, comprehensive and reflects the programme for Government on which our three parties came together and agreed to move forward together.

I also welcome the White Paper. There is a great deal in it. I hope the Workplace Relations Commission, WRC, negotiations work very well and that the local authority employees feel comfortable about all the changes that are coming.

I came to the whole water issue a number of years ago having had the experience of working in Rwanda and seeing at first hand what happens when an entire community is impoverished when it comes to water and has to struggle with the provision of water. Thankfully, through Irish Aid, a water pump was installed and the entire community got the benefit of that. I saw that at first hand and, consequently, when it came to the idea of us paying for water, I had no inhibitions about that and felt it was the right thing to do. It is right that we are responsible and that we recognise this is a finite and precious resource, with all the caveats that those who cannot pay would not be denied access to water. I do not believe it was ever suggested that anybody would be denied water. However, I appreciate that there were challenges when it came to the issue of who could afford to pay.

I have also had the experience of having to negotiate on behalf of people whose residential development was a legacy of the Celtic tiger period in having to deal with its wastewater treatment. They were living in the middle of nowhere and were left there with a system that was at the mercy of a developer who would or would not accept responsibility for it. There are legacy issues such as that one that need to be considered and dealt with also, especially when those estates from the Celtic tiger era are being taken in charge now. Councils cannot step back and not take responsibility for something that was not the residents' fault. They bought their properties out of desperation on the outskirts of Dublin within the commuter belt, be that very far away from the city.

I draw the Minister of State's attention to the Arterial Drainage (Amendment) Act, which I know is not under his remit but that of another colleague. There is a provision in that Act that the Office of Public Works removes riverside trees and vegetation with heavy machinery that are affecting wildlife habitats. Can we review the necessity for that in the context of all of this work on water?

I fully support and would like to see us move as soon as possible towards a statutory provision to have our water always in public ownership.

Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire Stáit chuig an Seanad. I agree with much of what has been said previously. There has been a focus on inland waterways, particularly on inland water courses. I might turn the focus on our coastal regions coming as I do from Dún Laoghaire. One of the major problems we have now in Dublin Bay, notwithstanding the fact that it is a UNESCO biosphere and that it enjoys the protection under planning legislation of being a special protection area, SPA, and a special area of conservation, SAC, is an increased number of people sea swimming in Dún Laoghaire and Dublin Bay, especially at places like the Forty Foot, Seapoint, Hawk Cliff and Killiney beach that Members would have heard of.

It is welcome but the reality is that the water quality there at the moment does not match what people are doing. Too often, it is not safe. The strange thing is that we have had this problem for a long time. We have a Victorian sewer system in Dún Laoghaire. This means rainwater and run-off from the road goes into the sewer system to the treatment plant at West Pier and is pumped underwater to Poolbeg for treatment as if it were sewerage, even though we know that it is not. Much of that could run safely into the sea. That works most of the time but there is limited capacity in West Pier. Every now and then when we have a strong rainfall event or, for whatever reason, there is a large volume of water in the system, the attenuation tank and pumping station in West Pier cannot handle the capacity or volume of water, including run-off, that goes into the station. What happens? It simply overflows into the sea at the back of West Pier in an area we know as "The Gut", right next to Seapoint Martello tower, where people swim all the time. As disgusting as that is, that it usually happens before people are told that it is happening.

I heard Senators referring to a figure of billions of euro. It will cost billions to put in place a modern-day sewerage system that separates grey water from brown water, to use that terminology, or to separate the run-off from what comes out of domestic sewage systems. The aim is that we treat whatever needs to be treated but either recycle or discharge what does not. This means grey water can be recycled into houses. We had a fantastic system in Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown with a social housing scheme that started in 2009 when I was on the council. It was at Benamore in Blackrock and used a sustainable urban drainage system. It cut all the rainwater and brought it into a small treatment unit within the housing development, treated it and used it then to flush the toilets within the complex. That effective use of water can be achieved, but it requires investment. Until we put that investment in place, water quality in Dublin Bay will not be what it should be. It is neither okay for swimming nor for the ecology, marine life or the fish and shellfish that we eat from the bay. I am conscious that the Minister of State has listened attentively to the debate. I appeal to him to include Dublin Bay and our coastal communities in plans to refine and improve water quality.

I call the Minister of State, Deputy Noonan. Early in his Ministry, he and I were involved in a successful project so it is a particular pleasure to call him to respond to the debate.

Ba mhaith liom buíochas a ghabháil leis na Seanadóirí go léir as an obair thábhachtach seo. I thank Senator Garvey and her colleagues for tabling this motion and, more generally, I thank all the Senators. It has been an informative and useful debate. We should never underestimate the significance or importance of such debates in the Seanad. They are important. We can never debate the issue of water enough, either in this House or in the Dáil. Moreover, I thank everyone for the passion they have brought to the debate.

The Programme for Government: Our Shared Future sets a high level of ambition around sustainable water management. It contains over 30 commitments specific to water matters which are directed towards overcoming the infrastructural deficits that impact on the provision of safe and secure drinking water supplies, lead to pollution and environmental damage and challenge the achievement of sustainable development across urban and rural Ireland.

I am grateful to have this opportunity to outline the Government's course of action and the progress already being made. If I can address any specific issues, I will do so but I appeal to Senators who have raised specific matters to contact me directly and I will try to address them.

The past decade has seen a significant period of institutional reform in the approach to the delivery of water services as well as the governance and practice of water protection. However, significant and complex challenges remain. We must continue to build on these reforms. We will continue high levels of investment in water service infrastructure and strengthen measures to address water pollution.

Irish Water is now delivering a coherent approach to water services and is firmly established as the national public water utility. It has strengthened the delivery and management of water services investment. A robust policy and funding architecture is now in place for public water services following the report of the Joint Committee on the Future Funding of Domestic Water Services published in April 2017. Robust governance, accountability and oversight arrangements are in place, with economic regulation by the Commission for Regulation of Utilities and environmental regulation by the EPA.

An Fóram Uisce and the Water Advisory Body have specific roles to oversee the performance of Irish Water. As we heard during today's debate, Ireland's waters are subject to growing environmental pressures. While some water bodies have improved in recent years, overall water quality is in decline. This is primarily due to nutrient pollution in rivers. Today, just over half of Ireland's surface water bodies meet the standards set out by the EU water framework directive to achieve "good" status or higher. Reversing the deterioration within the statutory timeframe set by EU member states at 2027 is a formidable challenge and effective measures are now required. The condition of remaining surface water bodies is "moderate", "poor" or "bad". Groundwater is in better condition, with more than 90% of bodies achieving "good" status.

The excessive loss of nutrients from farmland and waste water discharges represents the most significant impact on water quality, followed by siltation due to sediment run-off into rivers and changes to flow patterns in rivers. These pressures were set out again in the EPA state of the environment report, published on 24 November 2020, which highlights raw sewage discharges to water from 35 towns and villages, loss of pristine water quality status from more than 500 areas in the 1980s to 20 in 2020, and increasing nutrient damage in rivers and marine environments.

To meet these challenges in a sustainable way, Ireland must act on three fronts. We need to continue with the institutional reforms that will ensure Irish Water, in particular, delivers on its potential to become a world-class public utility to serve current and future needs of the Irish people, acknowledging, as was raised by Members, current issues around SLAs, local authorities and those talks. We need to provide the investment required to ensure we meet our EU drinking water and waste water services obligations, while supporting balanced urban and rural development. We need to protect our rivers, lakes and groundwater by including improved measures in the next river basin management plan, including by modernising our legal framework and working across Government to address water quality, climate change and biodiversity losses in an integrated way.

In terms of institutional reform, Irish Water and local authorities have made real progress, working together since 2014, in unifying our public water systems nationwide. The programme for Government includes a commitment to "retain Irish Water in public ownership as a national, standalone, regulated utility" while ensuring it is sufficiently funded to fulfil its role. In February, the Government published a policy paper on water sector transformation, which charts the course for completing the institutional reform programme by fully integrating water services operations within Irish Water's structure by 2022. The aim of this is to achieve a world-class, publicly owned national water services utility and bring greater coherence to managing water services and delivery in its environmental impact across the country. The Workplace Relations Commission has been asked to work with all parties to progress the significant change programme which is required to deliver this. The Government believes it will be possible to reach a collective agreement which will address the interests and concerns of all key stakeholders, including workers, local authorities and Irish Water, while delivering a world-class utility for citizens.

Separately, the Government will shortly publish the general scheme of a Bill to establish Irish Water as a stand-alone utility separated from the Ervia group, which is hoped to be enacted this year. This is an important step to providing reassurance on the development of a national, publicly owned water utility.

In terms of investment, the water services policy statement 2018-2025 sets out the broad vision and policy objectives for the development of water and waste water services in Ireland. The statement's three thematic objectives of quality, conservation and future-proofing are aligned with the national development plan, NDP, the national planning framework and the river basin management plan for Ireland, 2018-2021. Irish Water's investment plans are framed in this context. The NDP is based on a forecast spend of almost €8.5 billion in public water services by Irish Water over the ten years from 2018 to 2027. This was based on known investment needs, at the earlier stages of Irish Water’s establishment, to support the continued operation, repair and upgrading of the country’s water and waste water infrastructure to support sustainable social, economic and environmental progress. These forecasts will be updated as part of the current review of the NDP. Approximately 80% of Irish Water’s funding requirement is met through the Government’s Voted Exchequer investment in Irish Water. This stands at €1.3 billion in 2021 and it is directly related to the cost of providing domestic water services.

This high level of investment will be maintained to achieve greater environmental compliance, overcome challenges in water and wastewater treatment infrastructure, address unacceptably high water leakage rates, service future housing and development needs and ensure security of supply across the country.

The programme for Government also commits to supporting the take-up of Irish Water’s small towns and villages growth programme. This was devised by Irish Water to provide water and wastewater growth capacity in smaller settlements through an investment fund of almost €100 million with the approval of the Commission for Regulation of Utilities, CRU. Irish Water expects to notify local authorities of successful projects on a staggered basis over the coming weeks and months as project details are decided.

Equally important is the Exchequer support provided through the rural water programme for water and wastewater services in areas which are not served by the public water system. I acknowledge the incredible voluntary contribution of group water schemes in maintaining the vibrancy of rural communities. Approximately 6% of the population has its drinking water supplied by community-run group water schemes. In addition, almost 10% of the population relies on private wells. Nearly 30% of households are not connected to public wastewater services and depend on septic tanks, group wastewater treatment schemes or other arrangements. The rural water programme provides for priority investment needs which will support proper planning and sustainable development in rural areas. It also helps Ireland meet its water framework directive commitments.

In terms of the wider environment, Ireland’s second River Basin Management Plan 2018-2021 outlines the measures adopted to improve water quality in Ireland’s groundwater, rivers, and lakes, estuarine and coastal waters during the current planning cycle. Its priorities include compliance with EU directives such as the urban wastewater treatment directive; prevention of deterioration in water status; meeting the objectives for designated protected areas such as bathing waters and shellfish growing waters; protection of high-status waters; and implementation of targeted actions and pilot schemes in priority areas aimed at targeting status improvements in water bodies close to meeting their objective while addressing more complex issues that will build knowledge for the next cycle.

Key actions have focused on addressing agricultural discharges and investment in wastewater infrastructure as two areas of significant pressures on waters. Despite decades of success in addressing industrial pollution and major urban discharges, we are now experiencing declines in water body status mainly due to diffuse pollution. The third cycle river basin management plan will seek to reverse this trend. Building on the new governance structures implemented under the second plan and adopting a cross-Department, multi-agency approach, the plan will set out the environmental objectives to be achieved up to 2027, as well as identifying the measures needed to achieve these objectives.

In preparing this plan, three critical phases of public consultation are to be completed. The Department has recently completed the second phase of consultation on the significant water management issues. Informed by the results of this consultation, a draft river basin management plan is currently being prepared. It will be opened for another phase of consultation before being finalised for publication by the end of this year. This third plan will include strong additional measures such as new rules around the protection of drinking water sources; the limitation or mitigation of agricultural inputs; the management of Ireland’s 500,000 septic tanks; careful afforestation practices; controls on the abstraction of water; and actions to prevent soil run-off, among other responses. Ireland’s water environment legal code also needs substantial attention to give coherent effect to relevant EU directives.

The recent Environmental Protection Agency state of the environment report has also usefully drawn attention to the interconnectedness of our environmental challenges, along with the consequent need for integrated policy responses and an overarching environmental policy statement. Every such opportunity will be explored in finalising Ireland’s third river basin management plan to ensure actions and methodologies required to tackle water quality issues will also serve to address climate change obligations and biodiversity losses. By working coherently in this way, we can achieve better environmental outcomes all round.

I have set out in broad terms the Government’s water services policy programme, which is centred on completing necessary institutional reforms, ensuring the required level of investment and protecting our rivers, lakes, estuaries, coastal waters and groundwater. Demonstrable progress is being made in addressing the challenges we face. The Government will continue to deliver strongly on the ambitious commitments to water services contained in the programme for Government.

This work includes: the recent publication of the policy paper on water sector transformation, which charts the course for the full integration of water services operations within Irish Water’s structure by 2022; advancing the general scheme for a Bill to establish Irish Water as a national, stand-alone, regulated utility in public ownership, with a view to its enactment in 2021; updating Irish Water's investment programme under the national development plan review to ensure enhanced support for sustainable urban and rural development; finalising Ireland's third river basin management plan in order to deliver on our obligations to protect our water bodies from further decline and to restore water quality in a manner that is consistent with climate change and biodiversity objectives; and strengthening the rural water programme.

In this way, we are ensuring that effective arrangements are in place to "provide for the management, treatment and distribution of safe water through systems in public or community ownership, ensuring the protection and restoration of the ecological status of water bodies," as called for in the motion before the House. Táimid ag cosaint uisce agus comhshaol na hÉireann do dhaoine. Gabhaim buíochas leis na Seanadóirí go léir.

Gabhaim buíochas leis an Aire Stáit as ucht an freagra cuimsitheach sin. Glaoim ar an Seanadóir Garvey le haghaidh an fhocail scoir.

I thank the Minister of State for coming to the House, for listening to all our contributions and for his positive contribution at the end. We could probably talk about water all day. If we do not sort out water, we will not and cannot sort out housing. We know that housing is one of the top issues in Ireland, along with health. Health and housing will never be sorted if we do not sort out water. This is a very serious issue. It is actually a crisis but we do not call it a water crisis. It is time that we started using the word "crisis". We have a climate crisis, we have the health crisis and we need to start using the word "crisis" with regard to water also.

I have mentioned Miltown Malbay on several occasions in the Seanad. Not only have households there lost water for 72 hours, they have lost their water supply more than 72 times in the past six months alone. My village of Inagh had no water for six weeks. The state of water in this country is one of the main reasons that drove me to enter politics. The water cycle is taught in every school but we, as a people and as a Government, seem to forget our part in that water cycle. We are here to represent the people of Ireland who all have issues with water, be it wasting money on plastic bottles of water, problems with sewerage or not trusting the quality of water when it comes to swimming in it. There are many issues and this is our job. We need to do this to sort out water for people.

I referred to the need for funding for infrastructure in several ways, but it is also key that we look to nature-based solutions in the context of poor water quality. When we look to nature, we see how it can be done and often at a lower cost. I have seen, for example, how reed bed systems and services work for 56 houses in one small village. We will have to do a lot more research on that. It is not all about hard engineering and wasting loads of money on consultants here and there all around the country. We need to do it well and we need to do it with nature in mind. I look to the Minister of State and his expertise in that field in bringing this to the Department because he is an expert on nature based solutions around water issues and catchment area solutions.

With regard to farmers, we must be very careful because there are all kinds of farmers and all kinds of people responsible for this problem. Maybe some farmers are contributing, but not all farmers. There are lots of different farmers all over the country and I hate to generalise by using the word "all" about, for example, all the Greens, all the women or all the people from Clare. We must be careful because there are many brilliant farmers who are not polluting the waters. There are plenty who do but we have to make sure that we treat people individually. We spend millions of euro on water treatment, but nearly half of our treated water is lost through leaks. People can get sick from poisons in our water. I have had two families in touch with me whose children suffered kidney failure.

It is good that Senator Boylan mentioned fracking. There is a difference between talking about things and doing things. I started Fracking Free Clare back in the day. It led to Clare County Council being the first council in Ireland to ban fracking. I made a documentary about the matter, which we showed all over Ireland. It led to a national ban on fracking. I feel very strongly about liquid fracked gas and I have often spoken about the contaminated water that comes with fracked gas. It is important that if we are contributing that we contribute in a solution-based way. We are all aware of all the problems but saying that something is bad and actually doing something about it are two very different things.

We need to start using rainwater harvesting. This topic has not come up today. I have friends who were plumbers in Australia where it is illegal not to have rainwater harvesting equipment on one's roof.

I know from talking to my plumber at home, Mr. Joe Hegarty, that if I had a rainwater harvester, I could buy 1 cu. m, or 1,000 l, of water for €80 in my local co-operative in Ennistymon, fit the harvester onto the roof of the house and use an infrared light to make the water palatable and usable. That is something we must consider at local level. At a wider level, I believe there is no rainwater harvesting infrastructure in Ireland worth mentioning except for a few domestic systems.

We have a great deal to do, but we cannot do it overnight. In the meantime, I ask that we improve our communications with individuals when they lose their water or have water issues. Sometimes they get very frustrated not just about the lack of water but also about the lack of communication from Irish Water or the local authorities. When one has a problem, half of it is the problem itself and the other half is not being able to communicate about it or knowing what is going to happen, how it is going to be resolved or what the cause of the problem is. I asked my colleagues to dress in blue today because I feel very blue about this issue. It is a serious issue and, as the Minister of State said, we should talk about it more often. Perhaps other parties could raise it in another motion. There is much work to be done on legislation for it as well.

I did not even mention flooding and the many other issues we have. However, I will conclude on that note. I appreciate the support we received from Senators, both those in opposition and those on the Government side. It is important that we work together and push the Minister and the Minister of State on this matter. We owe that to the people who put us in this House. We must take this water crisis seriously.

Question put and agreed to.

I congratulate Senator Garvey on that outcome and on the unanimity of support. When is it proposed to sit again?

At 10.30 a.m. next Friday.

The Seanad adjourned at 6.03 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Friday, 23 April 2021.