I propose to take Questions Nos. 41, 63 and 75 together.
This summer, Dublin has experienced above average rainfall and some periods of exceptionally heavy and sustained rainfall. As a result, there were sewage overflow issues at Ringsend and at West Pier pumping station in Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown. Specific and temporary bathing prohibition notices were issued as a precautionary measure for a number of Dublin beaches during the summer to protect people pending water test results. Overflows are designed to ensure that sewers do not back up and flood streets, businesses and homes, which would be a much more serious threat to public health.
There are other multifaceted sources of pollution that impact on bathing waters in Dublin Bay, many of which are outside Irish Water's remit, including sewer misconnections to surface water drains and streams, wildlife and dog fouling. In these cases, the Dublin local authorities are working together to diagnose the root causes and put programmes in place to solve these issues.
As these events happened, I was in contact with Irish Water through my officials. My Department maintains close contact with both Irish Water and Dublin City Council on the issue. A meeting is being convened in the coming weeks with Irish Water, the EPA, the HSE and the Dublin local authorities to discuss bathing water in Dublin Bay. I have signalled the need for clear communication and better early warning systems. The EPA has agreed to work with my Department and the other partners on examining ways of further enhancing the communication to bathers regarding potential water quality issues, including early warning systems in the event of weather alerts. The EPA recently reported an overall improvement in the quality of our bathing waters nationally. Some 94% of our bathing waters meet the required standard and almost 86% are classified as either "good" or "excellent".
It is well established that our wastewater networks and treatment plants require investment to bring them up to the required standards. Ringsend wastewater treatment plant was originally designed to treat wastewater equivalent to a population of 1.64 million and is now overloaded. Irish Water is undertaking a major upgrade of the plant at a cost of more than €400 million to ensure the wastewater is treated to the required standard and to improve the water quality in the lower Liffey estuary. This staged upgrade will increase the capacity of the plant to the equivalent of a population of 2 million to deliver compliance with EU law by the end of 2022. Planning permission was granted for the project in April of this year.
Following a judgment in March 2019 by the Court of Justice of the European Union on Ireland's non-compliance with the urban wastewater treatment directive, my Department, accompanied by Irish Water, met Commission officials and proposed a programme of measures to ensure this case is resolved. My Department will maintain close contact with the Commission while the case remains open.
Dublin Bay is a unique amenity for Dublin city residents and visitors. The investment in wastewater infrastructure which this Government is providing will help protect the bay and its biosphere designation for future generations. Under the national development plan a total of €8.8 billion will be invested in public water services over the ten-year period to 2027. Investment in wastewater infrastructure has been prioritised in the Irish Water strategic funding plan for 2019-2014, with an estimated investment of €1.9 billion planned in wastewater projects over the period, including investment in the Ringsend plant.
The Dublin Bay UNESCO designated biosphere reserve comprises Dublin Bay, north Bull Island and adjacent land, including parts of Dublin city. It is managed in partnership by communities, non-governmental organisations and relevant public bodies at local and national levels. Dublin Bay is the only biosphere reserve worldwide which includes a national capital city within its area. This adds to its value and importance.
The Dublin Bay biosphere partnership's biodiversity conservation and research strategy 2016-2020 recognises the need for a research project to assess environmental pressures on the bay, including the contamination of rivers and bathing waters and the impact of climate change driven effects on water pollution. This project is now under way in the form of the INTERREG-funded Acclimatize research project at University College Dublin. My Department will consider the outputs from that study once it is completed.