29 Jan 2021, 13.33

The Joint Committee on Housing, Local Government and Heritage has launched its Report on Pre-Legislative Scrutiny of the General Scheme of the Water Environment (Abstractions) Bill, identifying several issues and recommendations with the aim of improving this important piece of legislation.

On 6 October 2020, the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Mr Darragh O’Brien TD, referred the General Scheme of the Water Environment (Abstractions) Bill to the Joint Committee on Housing, Local Government and Heritage in accordance with Standing Orders for the purpose of pre-legislative scrutiny of the General Scheme.

Committee Chair, Steven Matthews, TD, explained: “The Committee agreed to undertake pre-legislative scrutiny of the General Scheme and provide recommendations on areas where it believes amendments are warranted. The approach taken by the Committee in reporting on the scrutiny of the General Scheme was not to examine each part of the General Scheme, rather to identify the most critical issues and to focus on these.”

The recommendations as outlined in the report under 'recent reports' on this page are as follows:

  • The threshold for registration be lowered to 10 cubic metres in line with those in similar biogeographical location such as Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales. The Committee feels this would strike a fair balance between the interpretation of the Water Framework Directives requirements and a more practical regulatory system.
  • The licensing thresholds proposed in the Bill be lowered from 2,000 cubic metres per day to 20 cubic metres per day in line with similar jurisdictions such as those in Northern Ireland, England and Wales.
  • Consideration be given to the provision of a requirement and guidance to accurately measure and record abstractions that are required to have a licence.
  • Consideration be given to the introduction and implementation of a more accurate system of measuring and recording abstractions of all sizes known to the EPA.
  • The proposed Bill contain a provision to allow for public participation in Environmental Impact Assessments for all abstractions required to undergo assessment.
  • The provision in the proposed Bill that does not allow an existing abstractor to be refused a licence be removed.
  • Consideration be given to the provision of a 12-month period to allow for existing abstractions to apply for a license where required, and in doing so, subject such abstractions to the same requirements and conditions as those to be met by new abstractions.
  • Provision be made for the inspection, application of remedial measures, adjustment, enforcement of remedial measures, suspension and revocation of licenses where the abstraction is not meeting the required conditions or abiding by the necessary regulations and guidelines.
  • The Environmental Protection Agency is adequately resourced to effectively carry out the necessary functions stemming from the new regulatory regime, particularly in the area of inspection and enforcement.
  • Provision be made in the proposed Bill for an adequately resourced inspection and enforcement regime to underpin the new regulatory system.
  • Provision be made in the Bill for assessing compliance with the General Binding Rules.
  • The Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage, together with the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, engage with farming organisations to ensure adequate guidelines for agricultural licensees regarding best practice for abstraction are developed as the bill progresses.
  • Consideration be given to extending in the proposed Bill the timeline by which an affected party can apply for compensation resulting from an abstraction.

The Water Framework Directive1, which was adopted in 2000, requires EU Member States to take the necessary measures to achieve or maintain good ecological status in the water environment. The European Commission has initiated infringement proceedings against Ireland for failing to fully implement the Directive and has specifically cited the absence of controls over water abstractions.

Ireland’s current legislative provisions relating to water abstractions are set out in the Water Supplies Act 19422 (as amended) and the Local Government (Sanitary Services) Act 1964.

However, these provisions deal with abstraction for the public water supply only by water services authorities, and do not incorporate regulations for private, commercial, or industrial abstractions. The Department for Housing, Local Government and Heritage (the Department) has advised that these are outdated and fall short of what is required in a modern context.

The legislation is therefore being brought forward in order to bring Ireland into compliance with the EU Water Framework Directive and respond to infringement proceedings initiated by the European Commission; modernise the regime for water abstractions which is outdated and limited in scope, being based on legislation enacted 1942 and 1964; and, modernise provisions for abstractions by Irish Water.

This legislation also seeks to ensure that an appropriate legal framework and consenting process is in place to facilitate consideration and determination of the Eastern and Midlands Water Supply Project to abstract water from the River Shannon, and for any other large scale water abstractions for public drinking water supplies or other purposes; and, give necessary environmental protections to water sources.

The General Scheme aims to provide for a registration, licensing and control regime for water abstractions. The proposed system of registration and licensing is to be administered by the Environmental Protection Agency. Under EU law, through the Water Framework Directive, Ireland is required to introduce such a system and has not yet fully done so.

Chair Matthews concluded: “The process to register an abstraction is not onerous on either the abstractor or the EPA, and I hope that this report will help to inform the legislative process and make a valuable contribution to the forthcoming legislation.”

For more information about the work of the Joint Committee on Housing, Local Government and Heritagesee the Committee webpage

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