Ireland legislates for ten year water clean-up

First quality standards for phosphorus set, local authorities told to develop nutrient management plans

The Irish government yesterday announced regulations setting the country's first water quality standards for phosphorous - the number one polluter of its rivers and lakes. Junior environment minister Dan Wallace described the legislation as "the most significant ever made in respect of water quality in Ireland".

Mr Wallace said the regulations set "clearly formulated targets for reducing phosphorous in rivers and lakes." They require local authorities to make sure levels of the nutrient do not increase and to reduce them over the next ten years by demanding cuts in emissions from agriculture, forestry, sewage and industry. Authorities have to submit plans to achieve the targets to the Irish Environmental Protection Agency by next July.

In fact, the government was required to set water quality standards for phosphorous by a 1976 EU directive on the discharge of dangerous substances. Its failure to comply up till now has resulted in threats of legal action from the European Commission. Mr Wallace said yesterday the new regulations represented "a key response to EU Commission concerns." Going further, he said he believes the new standards will "set an important benchmark for other member states in the context of overall strategies to tackle water pollution throughout the EU."

Agriculture will be the sector most affected by the new measures as it contributes by far the most phosphorous to the water environment through over-use of phosphate-based fertilisers. Local authorities were given powers under a 1996 waste law to demand farmers to introduce nutrient management plans where necessary to protect rivers or lakes. Yesterday, the government issued detailed guidance on nutrient management planning for local authorities in a bid to get them to use their powers more extensively. It wants farmers to use phosphate-rich chemical fertilisers only where organic nutrient sources such as manure, prove insufficient.

A third announcement yesterday was that the government intends to spend I£3.4m (Ecu4.3m) to develop catchment management systems for three more major Irish rivers - the Liffey, Boyne and Suir. Systems for the rivers Derg, Ree and Leane are already under development. Total investment in the six river basins is expected to reach I£123m.

Irish environmental group Voice today criticised the government's ten-year time frame for water quality improvement as too long to achieve serious improvements, especially as there is the possibility of a six-year extension for areas where there are major economic implications in achieving the targets. Voice's Iva Pocock added that all farmers should be forced by law to draw-up nutrient management plans, rather than leaving this to the discretion of local authorities.

Follow Up:
Irish environment ministry, tel: +353 1 873 0363; Voice, tel: +353 1 661 8123.

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