I propose to take Questions Nos. 700, 701 and 702 together.
The EU Water Framework Directive (Directive 2000/60/EC of 23 October 2000 establishing a framework for Community action in the field of water policy) establishes a common framework for the protection of inland surface waters, transitional waters, coastal waters and groundwater. The overall aim of the Directive is to maintain high and good status waters where they exist and to restore waters that do not currently reach these standards. River basin management planning, structured in six-year cycles, is the tool prescribed by the Directive for achieving these aims.
The Water Framework Directive (WFD) has been transposed into Irish law through the following Regulations.
- European Union (Water Policy) Regulations 2014 (S.I. No. 350 of 2014)
- European Communities (Technical Specifications for the Chemical Analysis and Monitoring of Water Status) Regulations, 2011 (S.I. No. 489 of 2011)
- European Communities (Good Agricultural Practice for Protection of Waters) Regulations, 2010 (S.I. No. 610 of 2010)
- European Communities Environmental Objectives (Groundwater) Regulations, 2010 (S.I. No. 9 of 2010)
- European Communities Environmental Objectives (Surface Waters) Regulations, 2009 (S.I. No. 272 of 2009)
- European Communities (Water Policy) Regulations, 2003 (S.I. No. 722 of 2003)
These Regulations cover governance, the shape of the WFD characterisation, monitoring and status assessment programmes in terms of assigning responsibilities for the monitoring of different water categories, determining the quality elements and undertaking the characterisation and classification assessments.
Building on the successful elements of the first River Basin Management Plans cycle, the Government introduced new structures for implementation of the WFD as part of the second-cycle river basin management plan that covers the period 2018-2021. Supporting the Minister of Housing, Local Government and Heritage, these new structures includes the Water Policy Advisory Committee (WPAC), which provides high-level policy direction and oversight of implementation. The National Coordination and Management Committee, formed under WPAC, ensureS that the measures necessary to achieve our objectives are implemented in an efficient, effective and co-ordinated way. The National Technical Implementation Group, co-ordinates ongoing tracking of implementation and provides a forum for knowledge sharing. Finally, the regional local authority structures, comprising of 5 regional committees, drive delivery of supporting measures at local level.
These structures are further supported by the Local Authority Waters Programme (LAWPRO). Funded by my Department, LAWPRO is responsible for;
- Coordinating efforts by local authorities, public bodies and other stakeholders to achieve the water quality objectives of the EU Water Framework Directive
- Supporting local communities to get involved in caring for their local waters and participate in decision making and river basin management plans, and
- Applying catchment science to identify the issues impacting on water quality in a number of Priority Areas for Action and to refer them to the relevant bodies for action.
As part of the implementation of the WFD in Ireland, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is charged with, inter alia, the monitoring of water status in order to establish a comprehensive overview of water status within each river basin district. The EPA’s most recent report in this regard, Water Quality in Ireland 2013-2018, was published in 2019. The EPA also takes the lead role in reporting on behalf of Ireland to the EU Commission and to the European Environment Agency on the implementation of WFD tasks.
In relation to the exemptions for Ireland on delivering the environmental objectives of the WFD within the time period allowed, the WFD requires that all waters achieve high or good status by 2015, with extended time or lesser objectives granted under certain circumstances. Article 4 (4) (a) of the WFD permits exemptions to this objective on the basis that:
i. The scale of improvements required can only be achieved in phases exceeding the timescale, for reasons of technical feasibility
ii. Completing the improvements within the timescale would be disproportionately expensive, and
iii. Natural conditions do not allow timely improvement in the status of the body of water.
As part of their characterisation process for the second-cycle River Basin Management Plan, the EPA identified a number of water bodies, including the rivers Boyne and Blackwater in County Meath that will not meet their WFD objectives until 2027. A detailed catchment assessment for each of the 46 catchment in Ireland, including details of the exemptions reported to the EU is available on www.catchments.ie.
My Department is currently preparing the third River Basin Management Plan for Ireland, to cover the period 2022 – 2027. A key commitment in the new Programme for Government, a new revised and strengthened River Basin Management Plan will advance Ireland’s commitment to the implementation of the WFD.
Building on the work of the second-cycle, this plan will again describe the main pressures and activities affecting water status and set out the environmental objectives to be achieved up to 2027 and identify the measures needed to achieve these objectives, including those highlighted by the EPA.
A draft plan is due to be published shortly for a 6 month public consultation, so I would urge the Deputy to please engage in this process once the consultation is launched.