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// Waste plants below EU standard
Almost half the State's sewage treatment plants in urban areas fail to meet EU standards - and it will take another three years to bring them into compliance, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
In a new report that is bound to be seized on by campaigners against the registration of septic tanks in rural areas, the agency said wastewater treatment plants had a "poor" level of performance and it called for a "step change" to meet clean water targets.
The latest report, the eighth in a series, is the first review of the operation of sewage treatment plants in 529 urban areas - including Dublin and other cities - since they became subject to a new licensing regime being rolled out by the EPA.
It found that 46 per cent did not meet all wastewater quality standards or EPA guidelines. This includes 11 urban areas that do not meet the minimum requirement under the EU's urban wastewater treatment directive to provide secondary treatment.
Among these are Bray, Co Wicklow, and Ringaskiddy, Co Cork, where secondary treatment is now 10 years overdue; Clifden, Co Galway, where the old plant is adversely affecting bathing water; and Moville, Co Donegal, which is polluting the River Bredagh.
Eight urban areas, including Dublin and Cork city, do not meet the EU directive's requirement to provide a higher level of treatment by reducing nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus before discharging into sensitive water areas by specified dates.
EPA programme manager Gerard O'Leary said it "still shocks me when you do the number-crunching" on the extent of non-compliance. But he added that Ireland's water quality overall was still "good", and the main challenges were "agriculture and urban wastewater".
Mr O'Leary said the latest report was released to coincide with the public consultation on plans to set up a new State agency, Irish Water, to take charge of all water services. A PwC report endorsing it noted that there was a backlog of €500 million in water investment projects.
Dara Lynott, director of the EPA's office of environmental enforcement, said "substantial and sustained investment" was needed to comply with the EU directive.
Some smaller urban centres with no sewage treatment at all are tourist areas such as Duncannon, Co Wexford; Ardmore, Co Waterford; Bantry and Castletownbere, Co Cork; Kilkee and Kilrush, Co Clare; Kinvara and Spiddal, Co Galway, and Bundoran, Co Donegal. The EPA expects work to be completed by local authorities by 2015, to provide the necessary level of treatment for urban centres such as Kilkenny city; Killybegs, Co Donegal; Tralee, Co Kerry; Dundalk, Co Louth; Carrigtohill, Co Cork, and Enniscorthy, Co Wexford. Cork city is expected to be in compliance with nutrient reduction requirements by the end of 2014, while a new outfall to eliminate discharges to sensitive areas of Dublin Bay will not be completed until 2015 - seven years after the deadline set by the EU directive.
Secondary treatment is to be provided over the next three years for Lusk and Shanganagh, Co Dublin; Carrigaline, Cobh, Passage West, Ringaskiddy, Skibbereen and Youghal, Co Cork; Moville and Killybegs, Co Donegal; Clifden, Co Galway; and Bray and Arklow, Co Wicklow.
On a more positive note, the EPA said there had been "significant improvement" in the monitoring of sewage treatment plants with only 38 not taking sufficient samples, compared to 112 in 2007.
The agency has received 529 licence applications and 515 applications for certificates of authorisation for wastewater treatment plants. To date, it has granted 190 licences and 512 certificates.
The Department of the Environment said it was "particularly disappointing that . . . some incidents of non-compliance were due to inadequate sampling being carried out", adding that it "intends following up directly with the local authorities responsible".
It noted the department's water services investment programme was making an impact, with secondary treatment or higher now available for 93 per cent of wastewater discharges in areas with a population of more than 500, compared to 20 per cent in 2000.
FRANK McDONALD, Environment Editor
Irish Times 16.02.12