"Water is a precious resource and it is just not acceptable that our ground waters are being polluted unnecessarily" - said The Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Mr John Gormley, T.D.
Minister Gormley was speaking after he announced that he had signed new regulations which provide for the licensing and policing regime of sewage treatment facilities.
The new licensing system - which will be policed by the Environmental Protection Agency - will set strict limits on discharges allowed from these plants into our surface waters, such as rivers, canals and lakes, groundwater and coastal waters. The Regulations have been made to implement outstanding aspects of the EU Dangerous Substances and Water Framework Directives.
The Minister reiterated his commitment to preserving and enhancing environmental standards and the quality of natural water resources, in particular. "These new Regulations will form part of an overall strategy to protect the environment and improve quality of life" - the Minister said.
"The Regulations - in conjunction with the recently-announced provision of €4.7 billion in the National Development Plan for new and upgraded water services infrastructure - are a reflection of the Government's commitment to this aim" - he added,
The Environmental Protection Agency, in considering applications for authorisations, will stipulate conditions to ensure compliance with standards applying for various substances and to conform with obligations under applicable EU Directives - including the Water Framework, Dangerous Substances, Birds, Groundwater, Drinking Water, Urban Waste Water Treatment, Habitats and Bathing Water Directives.
The results of the EPA report - 'Water Quality in Ireland 2006' - just released, shows some improvements in water quality in rivers and lakes, but indicates a trend of decline in groundwater quality and calls for more stringent management of that resource.
"The report shows the very serious challenge which faces us in relation to curbing pollution of our water sources. Generally, our water quality is of a decent standard - but, there is a small pocket of persistent polluters who need to be tackled" - said Minister Gormley.
"My Department is continuing to take action to address the threats to water quality. I recently announced the 2007-2009 phase of the ongoing Water Services Investment Programme (Click Here), which provides for construction or upgrading of some 955 water supply and waste water treatment schemes, involving a total investment of €5.8 billion.
"This programme of investment in sewage infrastructure will greatly reduce the inputs of nutrients from municipal sources. Pollution of waters by agricultural sources will also be reduced through the good agricultural practices supported by the Nitrates Regulations. I am confident that these measures - among others being pursued by the Government - will ensure improvements in water quality in coming years.
"The key way to address our difficulties with pollution sources, is through the regulatory regime and the Waste Water Discharge (Authorisation) Regulations 2007 are only one element of a range of measures being taken to protect our water resources"added the Minister.
Nitrates Regulations (Farm Pollution Laws)
"The Nitrate Regulations - which were a long time coming and only finalised last year - will also play a major role in curbing pollution from farming sources. Under the Nitrates Regulations, I have increased maximum penalties to €5,000 and/or 3 months imprisonment for summary offences and €500,000 and/or 1 year imprisonment for indictable offences.
"The final part of the jigsaw - and the one thing that will stop this needless pollution of our water sources - is effective enforcement. I am currently working on further regulations - under the Nitrates Directive - which will require both the EPA and Local Authorities to effectively enforce the regulations. I want to see more inspections - I want to see enforcement and, if people are in breach of these regulations, I want to see the full rigours of the law applied to them" - concluded Minister Gormley.
The key changes in the Waste Water Discharge (Authorisation) Regulations include -
* the Environmental Protection Agency will be the competent authority for authorising a waste water discharge
* local authorities must apply to the EPA for a licence/certificate, authorising all waste water discharges from their sewage works
* in the conditions attaching to authorisations, the EPA will set emission limits for pollutants likely to be in waste water and the timeframe within which these are to be achieved
* the EPA will periodically review discharge authorisations granted
* failure by local authorities to comply with conditions attaching to an authorisation will be an offence.
The Regulations set specified dates, depending on the capacity of the waste water works, by which applications for licences must be received. In the case of discharges from smaller sewage systems, certificates will apply instead of licences.
The first licence applications - in respect of about 55 sewage systems serving populations greater than 10,000 - have to be made by 14th December next.