Group water schemes and their members are encouraged to take part in the ongoing public consultation on the draft River Basin Management Plan 2022-2027, which runs until the 31st March.
The NFGWS is extremely encouraged to see an increased focus on drinking water source protection in the draft plan, which was published late last year.
Required under the European Union Water Framework Directive, a River Basin Management Plan (RBMP) is produced every six years and forms the basis for the national strategy on protecting and improving the quality of Ireland’s waterbodies. The new plan will be the 3rd RBMP cycle and this consultation is the last opportunity to engage with preparation of the final publication.
Despite ongoing efforts, almost 50% of our surface waterbodies are failing to reach a minimum ‘good’ environmental status. Speaking about the new plan at the NFGWS Rural Water Webinar last September, David Flynn, of the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage (DHLGH), remarked that: ‘The situation is urgent and it requires collective action to halt this deterioration.’
No one individual or group has the solution within their grasp. We really do need cross-sector co-operation and engagement as well as community involvement and a structured dialogue to promote local problem solving and co-operation.
The draft RBMP has been based on the principles of an increased level of ambition, integrated catchment management and the implementation of measures that will have multiple benefits that also deliver on biodiversity and climate action goals.
In regard to this increased ambition, the draft plan encompasses all waterbodies and sets out a target of creating catchment management plans for each of the 46 hydrometric catchments within the national River Basin District. Within these catchments, it identifies 527 Areas for Action, which have been selected for focused attention during the 3rd RBMP cycle and are broken down into Areas for Restoration, Areas for Protection and Areas for Catchment Projects.
The NFGWS has been earmarked as the lead agency for 68 of these areas, and will also be jointly leading two catchment projects alongside the Geological Survey Ireland (GSI) and Trinity College Dublin (TCD). Each of these areas and their goal (‘protection,’ restoration’ or ‘catchment project’) are detailed in Appendix 3 of the draft RBMP.
Drinking water source protection
The draft River Basin Management Plan acknowledges the specific requirement in the recast Drinking Water Directive for the protection of drinking water sources and makes reference to the Drinking Water Expert Group’s plans to deliver three key outcomes:
- Establish in legislation a risk-based approach for the management of water supply catchments.
- Assignment of responsibilities to the most appropriate public bodies for the implementation of source protection across: risk assessment, monitoring and risk management.
- Establish a communications strategy on drinking water source protection for both stakeholders and consumers.
The draft plan also sets out actions to improve Irish water governance and its legal framework to clarify the roles and responsibilities of the various implementation bodies.
The implementation of measures in the new cycle centres on the ethos of the ‘right measure in the right place,’ with the draft RBMP highlighting technical evidence that quantifies the scale of mitigation measures needed, including 2,500km of riverside interception measures, the rewetting of 20,000 hectares of organic soil and at least a 50% reduction in nitrogen losses to water from agriculture.
As evidenced in the drinking water source protection pilot projects to date, the community-owned GWS sector is in a unique position in regard to the implementation of measures through its ability to effectively engage with GWS members; many of whom are farmers.
The experience of these projects has been that, as both custodians of the drinking water supply and its catchment, group water scheme members have a vested interest in protecting water quality and the wider local environment.
Virtual consultation room
The DHLGH hosted an informative online stakeholder’s event on the January 17th, while Local Authority Waters Programme (LAWPRO) has launched an extremely useful virtual consultation room, which further details what is included in the draft plan, along with explanatory videos and the ability to make a submission to the consultation. It can be found at www.drbmp-vcr.ie.
The full draft RBMP and guidelines on how to get involved in the consultation can also be found on the www.gov.ie website.
This article originally featured in the most recent edition of the Rural Water News magazine. To read the full edition and to sign up to our magazine mailing list, click here.