River Basin Management Plan for Ireland

CURRENTLY OPEN FOR PUBLIC CONSULTATION – HAVE YOUR SAY!

Ireland’s third River Basin Management Plan is currently under development and is open for public consultation. River Basin Management Plans are pivotal tools for the implementation of the EU Water Framework Directive. The Water Framework Directive is European legislation that requires our rivers, lakes, groundwater and coastal water to achieve a healthy state, or what’s known as ‘good ecological status’. Ireland’s first RBMP was published in 2009, the second was published in 2018, and the third RBMP due to cover the period 2022-2027 is in the process of being finalised. But what does all of this mean?

WFDs & RBMPs

The EU Water Framework Directive (WFD) requires all Member States to protect and improve water quality in all their waters so that we can achieve good ecological status, or that our waters are at the very least trending towards good ecological status (i.e. ‘good potential’) by 2027. It was given legal effect in Ireland by the European Communities (Water Policy) Regulations 2003 and it applies to rivers, lakes, groundwater, and transitional coastal waters. The Directive requires that management plans be prepared on a river basin basis and specifies a structured method for developing these plans.

River Basin Management Plans (RBMPs) are plans that aim to protect and improve the water environment in river basins and catchments. They are prepared and reviewed every six years. The first RBMP covered the period 2010-2015. The second cycle plan covered the period 2018-2021 and was published by the government in April 2018, reaching completion last year. The third cycle plan is currently being developed and is at the public consultation phase.

WHO IS RESPONSIBLE FOR IMPLEMENTING RBMPs?

The Water Policy Advisory Committee (WPAC) provides high-level policy direction and monitors the RBMP implementation. It also advises the Minister on progress. This committee meets four times a year and summarised minutes of the meetings are available for public view on the gov.ie website. The National Co-ordination and Management Committee (NCMC) ensures RBMP measures are managed and helps strengthen partnerships for implementing the plan. The NCMC agrees and oversees the overall work programmes and reports to the WPAC on progress, potential barriers to implementation and future policy needs. The National Technical Implementation Group (NTIG) oversees technical implementation of the RBMP at a national level and provides a forum to coordinate actions among relevant State actors and finds ways to address operational barriers to implementation. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) chairs the group.

Five local authority regional committees, supported by the Local Authority Waters Programme (LAWPRO) coordinate delivery of measures at regional and local level. These committees produce Regional Integrated Catchment Management Programmes, which set out areas prioritised for action at water body, sub-catchment or catchment level, as appropriate. Programmes also outline the measures to be implemented in each relevant area and the bodies responsible for these measures. Regional committees are supported by an operational committee, which is composed of membership from public and implementing bodies. LAWPRO promotes and supports public and stakeholder involvement in implementing measures at regional and local level.

LAWPRO

LAWPRO is a national shared service working on behalf of all 31 local authorities in Ireland. Kilkenny and Tipperary County Council jointly manage the programme across 13 separate local authority centres within a five-region structure that includes: (1) Border, (2) Midlands and East, (3) South East, (4) South West, and (5) West. The establishment of LAWPRO is part of a new approach for managing Ireland’s natural water assets that sees local authorities, state agencies and public bodies collaborating and working with private sector stakeholders and local communities. Where issues are identified, LAWPRO collaborate with the relevant local authority, public body, and water stakeholder to find a solution. As it states on their website, “There is a role for everyone, and LAWPRO is here to support. This ambition drives LAWPRO’s Catchments and Communities teams, guiding our collective and individual efforts”. Ben Malone is one of the Community Water Officers in the Border Region covering Counties Louth, Cavan and Monaghan. For more info on LAWPRO visit www.lawaters.ie.

CATCHMENT CARE

Caring for our catchments (also known as river basins) is central to the RBMPs. So, what exactly is a catchment? A catchment is an area of the landscape that catches and collects rainfall and allows it to flow through rivers, lakes and groundwater to the sea. The characteristics and health of water within that catchment reflect both the natural attributes and the human activities within that area. To effectively manage the quality of water in our rivers, lakes and coastal areas we need to look back up along the catchment and understand what happens to water as it moves through the landscape and makes its journey towards the sea. The Flurry in County Down; the Kilcurry and Castletown in County Armagh; the Fane in County Monaghan; the Glyde in Counties Cavan & Monaghan; and the Dee in County Meath all flow into Dundalk Bay (pictured below), which is designated as a Special Area of Conservation (SAC). Dundalk Bay is an important area for shellfish, wetland birds and a range of marine and coastal habitats. Photo credits: Candice Moen.

LAWPRO’s catchment scientists work in areas that are listed in River Basin Management Plans as Prioritised Areas for Action (PAAs) because of deteriorated water quality. Local Catchment Assessment  is undertaken in these areas to understand why water quality has deteriorated and what needs to be done to improve it. Outside of the PAAs, local authorities continue to inspect farms, septic tanks, and other polluting activities. They also respond to complaints and pollution incidents.

LOCAL CATCHMENT ASSESSMENT

Local catchment assessment is a 4-step process. The first step of LAWPRO’s work in a PAA is to improve the scientific understanding by gathering and collating all relevant and available data into a Desktop Study Report. This ensures LAWPRO can focus on the issues that are significantly affecting water quality and the mitigation actions that should prioritised. The Desktop Study report gives information about (1) Water quality (how it has changed and what the significant water quality issues are e.g. excessive nutrients, excessive sediment, organic pollution, poor ecological conditions); (2) about The Importance of waters in the PAA (what the water is used for and if there are any rare plants or animals that need to be protected); (3) about Connectivity (how the geological features of the landscape influence how water and pollutants flow and are connected across the catchment); and (4) Impacts from human activities (focussing on human impacts that damage water quality).

The second step is community engagement. LAWPRO hold a Community Information Meeting in each PAA before starting stream assessments and fieldwork. The Community Information Meeting is an opportunity to share LAWPRO’s understanding of issues in the catchment, highlight the work that will be done and gather information from the local community. ASSAP advisors hold a farmer information meeting in PAA’s in agricultural areas. The Agricultural Sustainability, Support and Advisory Programme (ASSAP) is a collaborative initiative between government and industry. It has been put in place to support the implementation of best agricultural practice at farm level in the PAAs and to help address agricultural pressures on water quality. Our ASSAP advisor for the Cavan/Monaghan region is Domhnall Kennedy. For more information visit www.teagasc.ie

Once field work is completed, the final step is to analyse data and interpret it along with other existing data. At this point, appropriate mitigation measures will be recommended and agreed with relevant stakeholders. For example, problems with wastewater treatment discharges are referred to the EPA as the licensing authority overseeing Irish Waters operations; where agriculture is contributing to water quality problems, advisors from ASSAP provide advice and support to farmers to secure compliance and promote best environmental practices; owners of domestic wastewater treatment systems and septic tanks affecting quality in PAA’s will receive a letter notifying them that they may be eligible to apply for grant funding toward the costs of repairing, upgrading or replacing these systems; and where commercial forestry is impacting on water quality, the Forest Service is informed. Where other activities are impacting on water quality LAWPRO works with Local Authorities and Irish Water to alleviate these pressures..

After community engagement, LAWPRO’s catchment scientists will do fieldwork and carry out stream assessments to narrow down areas with poor water quality. They use a range of assessment techniques that include taking additional water samples for chemical analysis; examination of the macroinvertebrates, which are a good indicator of water quality over time due to their different levels of sensitivity to pollution; assessment of the bed of the river to make sure there is not too much sediment for the invertebrates to live in; assessment of aquatic plant life; and walks along the river bank and/or lake shore to identify possible causes of pollution.

Taking a sample to monitor the presence of macroinvertebrates using a kick-sampling technique. Photo credit: Liam Murtagh

Once field work is completed, the final step is to analyse data and interpret it along with other existing data. At this point, appropriate mitigation measures will be recommended and agreed with relevant stakeholders. For example, problems with wastewater treatment discharges are referred to the EPA as the licensing authority overseeing Irish Waters operations; where agriculture is contributing to water quality problems, advisors from ASSAP provide advice and support to farmers to secure compliance and promote best environmental practices; owners of domestic wastewater treatment systems and septic tanks affecting quality in PAA’s will receive a letter notifying them that they may be eligible to apply for grant funding toward the costs of repairing, upgrading or replacing these systems; and where commercial forestry is impacting on water quality, the Forest Service is informed. Where other activities are impacting on water quality LAWPRO works with Local Authorities and Irish Water to alleviate these pressures.

TAKING ACTION FOR OUR LOCAL WATERS

There are a number of ways we can take action as individuals for our local waters to ensure that they are protected and preserved for the humans and wildlife that depend on them. The simplest thing anyone can do is to become more informed about their local catchment. Visit http://www.catchments.ie for more information in this regard. This website shares science and stories about Ireland’s water catchments, and people’s connections to their water. Contact your local Community Water Officer also. They’ll often be a good source of locally relevant information on the catchment you live in. If you are want to consider a more hands-on approach, there are many ways to get involved – this can be anything from organising a Spring Clean of a riverbank once a year, getting your local Tidy Towns committee to look at how your river or lake can help your town become a nicer place to live, or even establishing a Rivers Trust or locally led agri-environment scheme to help draw down funding and establish a long term plan for your area.

Another excellent way of taking action is by getting involved in Citizen Science. Citizen science actively involves citizens in gathering data that generates new knowledge or understanding.

Experience by LAWPRO in the 2018-2021 cycle showed that Citizen Science is capable of engaging people of all ages, and that by involving the public in the monitoring of rivers it was able to increase local knowledge and potential for data gathering. In response to this LAWPRO, supported by the EPA, engaged with practitioners, agencies, trainers and community groups interested in citizen science. A series of workshops and training days led to the development of a brand new scheme; a Citizen Science Stream Index (CSSI) suitable for beginners and the adoption of the Small Stream Impact Score (SSIS) used by scientists for the more advanced practitioners.

If the collection of data in your local stream as a citizen scientist is something that appeals to you then get in touch with Ben and he will be able to give you more info on how you can get involved.

We can also get involved and have our say by Participating in Public Consultations. Although the process can seem a bit intimidating at times, it is actually quite straightforward and there is plenty of support for those who may be struggling or have questions. This plan that is currently being developed comes at a critical time in terms of water quality and biodiversity loss. In response to recent water quality trends, the Draft River Basin Management Plan proposes a new level of ambition with over one hundred measures outlined to address impacts on water quality, covering areas such as: nutrient pollution from agricultural land; the performance of urban waste water infrastructure and a programme of restoring free-flowing waters to improve biodiversity in our rivers.

Ireland has made substantial progress in how we manage our water services and how we work together to protect and improve water quality. However, water quality is still in decline. Working together, through a new and strengthened River Basin Management Plan, will put us on course to achieve our environmental objectives and deliver the clean waters that are vital for protecting public health, supporting economic growth and preserving our environment.” [Darragh O’Brien TD]

HOW TO HAVE YOUR SAY

You can have your say by filling in an online survey form that is available on http://www.gov.ie, or by downloading a template and returning it by email to rbmp@housing.gov.ie, or simply send a response in your own preferred format to RBMP Consultation, Water Advisory Unit, Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Custom House, Dublin 1, D01 W6X0 (post) or rbmp@housing.gov.ie (email). In March, LAWPRO will be hosting some online public meetings on the Draft River Basin Management Plan. Provisional County Monaghan dates as follows: Ballybay/Clones (Finn, Bunnoe and Dromore River Catchments) on Thurs, 3 Mar; Carrickmacross/Castleblayney (Fane, Muckno and Carrick River Catchments) on Tues, 8 Mar; and Monaghan (Blackwater and North Monaghan’s River Catchments) on Thurs, 10 Mar. For more information contact Ben Malone at bmalone@lawaters.ie. For information on Public Consultations in other counties visit https://lawaters.ie/rbmp-public-meetings-2022/.

The Dromore River as it enters the Ballybay Wetlands. Photo credit: Fearghal Duffy.

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