By Gráinne Ní Aodha, PA
Local authorities need to carry out more inspections on certain farms as part of efforts to improve water quality, according to a report from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
The report found that farm inspections were 43 per cent below pre-Covid levels, with 2,500 inspections carried out in 2021.
The number of water complaints received by local authorities increased by 14 per cent to 3,600 in 2021.
The EPA said that air and noise enforcement continues to have the lowest level of dedicated resources in local authorities, and that better targeting of resources is “necessary” to protect public health.
The report, which reviews local council’s effectiveness in enacting environmental protection legislation, shows that less than half of 620 performance assessments undertaken in 2021 reached the required standard.
The EPA said that Ireland’s water quality is in decline, with just over half of surface waters in a satisfactory condition – that includes rivers, lakes, estuaries and coastal waters.
“Agriculture is one of the sectors that is impacting on our water quality,” the EPA said.
It said that science has identified areas where action needs to be taken to prevent nutrients including nitrogen and phosphorus from leaking into waterways, and said local authorities “must target farm inspections in these areas”.
“The proper use of fertilisers and the correct management of slurry will benefit both the farmer and the environment,” it said.
Almost 81,000 complaints were handled by local authorities in 2021.
This EPA assessment of the local authorities is the first year of the revised Local Authority Performance Framework, and is based on 20 priorities around the environment.
It measures things such as better segregation of household and commercial waste, cleaner air through controls on the sale of solid fuel and minimising risks to water quality from farming activities.
There is a particular emphasis on following up and resolving issues detected so that environmental improvements are achieved.
Dr Tom Ryan, director of the EPA’s office of environmental enforcement, said there are “great” local environmental challenges.
He added: “The water quality in our rivers, lakes, estuaries and coastal waters is in decline and there are concerning localised issues that are impacting negatively on the air we breathe.
“The segregation of waste streams, which is so critical to supporting materials reuse in the development of a circular economy, is not as good as it needs to be.”
He added: “Local authorities need to have a more strategic approach to addressing these issues within their counties so as to protect people’s right to the enjoyment of a healthy environment.
“While local authorities are engaged in a great deal of enforcement activity, they need to have a better focus on priority environmental issues and increase or escalate enforcement action where required.”
David Pollard, of the EPA’s office of environmental enforcement, said improvements were needed.
He added: “Local authorities continue to carry out extensive water quality monitoring, however, there is scope to make better use of this monitoring to target enforcement action aimed at improving water quality.”