Urban Waste Water Discharge report published

Date released: Mar 12 2007

Improvements in the provision of infrastructure for wastewater treatment but smaller plants continue to perform poorly

  • 82% of wastewater received secondary treatment at the end of 2005, up from 67% in 2003.
  • Cork, Limerick, Galway and Dublin all now have modern secondary wastewater treatment plants in operation with construction of the plant in Waterford to commence in 2007.
  • Action is being taken or planned by local authorities to provide new waste water treatment plants, upgrade poorly performing plants and improve water quality.

However, at the end of 2005:

  • 18% of wastewater was still discharged without treatment or with only basic treatment (i.e. preliminary or primary).
  • At 30 locations, mainly towns or cities discharging to estuaries or coastal waters, the required secondary wastewater treatment plants were not in place.  At these locations wastewater was being discharged with either no treatment or basic treatment in non-compliance with the Regulations.
  • The performance of small and medium sized waste water treatment plants continues to be unacceptable with only 19% and 38%, respectively, treating effluent to a satisfactory standard.
  • Monitoring of discharges from treatment plants is still in need of improvement. 

Figures released today show that poor performance of sewage treatment plants continues to be an issue despite an increase in the overall level of treatment provided. These figures were released by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in its report on Urban Waste Water Discharges in Ireland – A Report for the Years 2004 and 2005.

While the quality of effluent from larger plants has improved since the last reporting period compliance with effluent quality limits at small and medium sized plants continues to be poor.  

In evaluating the causes of the non-compliance with the Regulations the EPA has concluded that many waste water treatment plants are under increasing pressure from development that has taken place throughout the country over the last number of years. The operation and management of overloaded plants is proving to be a significant difficulty for many local authorities. 

Dr. Matt Crowe, Programme Manager, EPA’s Office of Environmental Enforcement said,

“For plants that are overloaded, the relevant local authorities need to fast track planned improvement works and enhanced operational controls to protect to the quality of our waters. While the EPA acknowledge the scale of work being carried out by local authorities we are disappointed that the necessary improvements are not happening at a fast enough pace. This is an area that needs attention.”

The EPA report also includes information on recent enforcement actions taken by the EPA on foot of EPA investigations into poor plant performance.  Commenting, Dr Crowe said

“75 wastewater treatment plants have been inspected by the EPA’s Office of Environmental Enforcement between 2004 and 2006 to see at first hand the problems at these plants.  Advice and recommendations have been provided to local authorities in relation to many of these plants.  Binding directions were issued in three cases where recommendations were not implemented to the satisfaction of the Office of Environmental Enforcement.  The EPA is using its enforcement powers to focus in on sewage treatment plants suspected of causing serious pollution and   will continue to use its powers to direct local authorities to bring about improvements in water quality where necessary.”

The report also highlights the issue of storm water overflows. Dr. Crowe explains

“The pressure due to development on waste water treatment plants is leading to an increased use of storm water  overflows that discharge untreated and unscreened sewage and industrial wastewater into receiving waters.  The EPA is concerned about this development and wants to see it addressed by local authorities as a priority.”

The report entitled Urban Waste Water Discharges in Ireland – A report for the Years 2004 and 2005, contains summary reports on the compliance of all local authority treatment plants with a population equivalent greater than 500. You can download it from the web site using the link above or purchase it from the EPA Publications’ Office, McCumiskey House, Richview, Dublin 14 on 01-2680100 - €20.