Since 1 January 2014, Irish Water has statutory responsibility for all aspects of water services planning, delivery and operation at national, regional and local levels. Irish Water’s primary function is to provide clean safe drinking water to customers and to treat and return wastewater safely to the environment.
It is recognised that our waste water networks require ongoing and sustained investment to bring these up to the required standard of treatment; to deal with population growth; and to adapt to the impacts of climate change. In this regard, significant investment in waste water infrastructure continues and is provided for in the Irish Water Strategic Funding Plan. It is estimated that €1.9bn will be invested in waste water projects between 2019 to 2024.
In relation to Dublin Bay, the EPA has classified the water quality as ‘good’ under the water framework directive for the period 2013 to 2018, an improvement on the ‘moderate’ status achieved during the 2007 to 2009 period.
The EPA’s most recent bathing water quality report, released earlier this year, also highlights the encouraging progress being made in improving bathing waters across the country and I was particularly pleased to see the continual increase in the number of bathing waters meeting or exceeding the minimum water quality requirements.
However, there are instances of bathing water quality issues in some specific areas of Dublin Bay, with Merrion Strand recently declassified as a bathing water. There are multifaceted sources of pollution that may be impacting on the bathing water quality in Dublin Bay. This includes sewer misconnections to surface water drains and streams, sewer storm water overflows, wildlife and dog-fouling. Through a recently created task force, my Department, Dublin City Council, Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council and Irish Water are currently working together to diagnose the root-causes and put in place programmes to solve these issues.
In addition to these pressures, the Ringsend wastewater treatment plant was originally designed and built to treat wastewater for a population equivalent of 1.64 million and is now overloaded. In response, Irish Water is currently undertaking a major upgrade of the plant. This upgrade will increase the capacity of the plant to cater for the growing population of the Greater Dublin Area and will address compliance with EU law. Planning permission was granted for the project in April 2019, and the project is currently underway.
Given a legacy of underinvestment in water services infrastructure in Ireland, the scale of remedial work necessary in our water system will take a number years and investment cycles to fully resolve. The Government has committed to ambitious funding of Irish Water’s capital investment plans for drinking water and wastewater infrastructure on a multi-annual basis. The Government plans to deliver the €8.5 billion funding package committed to in Project Ireland 2040.