Water Nitrate levels require ‘urgent’ action, EPA reports finds

Source: Greennews.ie

14 July 2021

‘Urgent and targeted action’ is needed to reduce nitrogen pollution in our waters, an EPA report has warned.

The EPA Water Quality In 2020 published assessed the quality of Ireland’s waters and found they
continue to be under pressure from human activities.

High levels of nutrients, like phosphorus
and nitrogen pose the main threat to water quality.

The report states that nearly half
the rivers (47%), a quarter of groundwaters (24%) and one fifth of estuarine
and coastal water bodies (21%) have nitrogen levels that are too high.

Many rivers in the south, southeast
and east of Ireland are under pressure due to excess nitrogen, primarily from
agricultural activities.

Specifically, rivers Bandon, Lee,
Blackwater, Suir, Nore, Barrow and Slaney have nitrogen levels that have
‘significant implications’ for the marine environments they affect.

High nitrogen concentrations can lead to
overgrowth of plants and algae. This displaces other organisms and can lead to
oxygen depletion, damaging the water’s ecology. High nitrate levels above
Drinking Water Standard can also pose a risk to human health.

“If we do not substantially reduce
nitrogen inputs to our rivers, and ultimately our marine environment, we are in
danger of further deteriorations in water quality and losing our excellent
coastal water quality” said EPA Director of Evidence and Assessment, Dr Eimear
Cotter.

Signs of improvement

Just over half (57%) of Ireland’s rivers
and lakes are in a ‘satisfactory condition.’ These bodies of water can sustain
healthy ecosystems for fish, insects, and plants.

Further, the report found ‘modest
improvement’ in river quality with 345 rivers showing improvements in quality,
while 230 declined in quality.

The report found ‘encouraging signs of
improvement’ for prioritised areas, but there is still more to be done.

EPA Programme Manager Mary Gurrie,
added that “it is essential that action is taken in both the next River Basin
Management Plan and the Nitrates Action Programme to continue improvements whilst
also preventing further deterioration.”

A review of Ireland’s Nitrates Action Programme (NAP) is currently underway. According to this directive, States must
develop and implement a plan to reduce and prevent further nitrate pollution.

A new River Basin Management Plan is set to be published in 2022. The current plan sets out actions to
improve water quality and achieve ‘good’ ecological status by 2027.

Today’s report is “not a good news story”,
According to Natural Environment Officer at An Taisce Dr. Elaine McGoff.

“This is yet another report from the EPA
again highlighting the consistent decline in water quality. While there have
been some small improvements, they’re overshadowed by the declines,” she told The Green News.

“Do we have to wait until our water
quality entirely collapses before we see meaningful action? We need wholesale
and effective action, not tinkering around the edges. The need is great and the
time is now,” Dr. McGoff added.

Story by Sam Starkey

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