Cavan customers enjoying compliant drinking water following removal of their water supply from the EPA’s RAL

04 February 2021

Over 12,000 Irish Water customers in Cavan are enjoying better-quality drinking water due to a targeted campaign in the local catchment by a range of agencies, which has resulted in a reduction in pesticide exceedances in the local water supply.

Cavan Regional Water Supply, which is sourced from Lough Acanon, had five exceedances for the pesticide MCPA in 2018, two exceedances in 2019 and none in 2020. Since the high number of pesticide exceedances recorded in 2018, Irish Water working in partnership with a range of organisations involved in the National Pesticides and Drinking Water Action Group (NPDWAG) provided advice and guidance to all users of pesticides including the farming community, greens keepers, grounds keepers and domestic users, to ensure that best practice measures in relation to the safe use of pesticides to protect drinking water quality are always followed.

Through this successful initiative, pesticide concentrations from the Cavan Regional Water Supply are now compliant with the EU Drinking Water Regulations. These engagement actions have enabled the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to remove Cavan Regional Water Supply from its Remedial Action List (RAL).

The RAL is a list of at-risk schemes, and customers supplied by the Cavan Regional Water Supply will be happy to know their water is now fully compliant in relation to pesticides.

Great care must always be taken to protect drinking water supplies wherever pesticide use is considered necessary, particularly if using products for grassland weed control containing substances such as MCPA, fluroxypyr and 2,4-D. These substances and others have been detected in drinking water supplies across Ireland including Cavan Regional Water Supply Scheme in 2018 and 2019. The detected levels sometimes exceed the legally permitted limit for pesticides in drinking water, which is set at an extremely low value (equivalent to one drop in an Olympic-sized swimming pool).

Cavan Regional Water Supply is the third water supply scheme in Cavan, which historically had MCPA exceedances and are now compliant. Water supplies impacted by pesticides in Killeshandra and Gowna came back into compliance in 2019, through similar catchment-focussed engagement actions.

Works are however continuing at Belturbet to improve drinking water quality for customers here. Belturbet is supplied from the river Erne and has had persistent exceedances for MCPA in 2018, 2019 and 2020 and is also on the RAL. Works are continuing in the Lough Erne catchment to improve water quality. Two other public water supplies in Cavan, Ballyjamesduff and Arvagh have also recorded recent sporadic exceedances for MCPA and remain under surveillance.

Efforts to reduce the incidence of persistent pesticide detections such as those in Belturbet are being coordinated by the NPDWAG which is chaired by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM). All of the key stakeholders are represented in this group and include other Government departments and agencies; local authorities; industry representative bodies; farming organisations; water sector organisations; and amenity sector organisations. A catchment focus group comprising members of the key stakeholders has been working in the Cavan and Belturbet Catchments for some time.

Farmers and other landholders dealing with the challenge of tackling rushes should note that the DAFM has developed new guidance on the sustainable management of rushes. The new approach is based on the concepts of containment or suppression and aims to minimise the use of pesticides. More information on this can be obtained from your local farm advisor or on www.pcs.agriculture.gov.ie/sud/waterprotection.

Explaining further why the Cavan Regional Water Supply was on the RAL, Dr. Pat O’Sullivan, Irish Water’s Regional Compliance Specialist said: “Cavan Regional Water Supply was placed on the Remedial Action List because of pesticide concentrations being persistently above the limits permitted by the EU Drinking Water Regulations. Intensive catchment-focussed engagement actions involving Irish Water and relevant stakeholders to achieve compliance for pesticides was undertaken in 2019 and 2020 and the EPA are now satisfied that the scheme can be removed from the RAL. This has proven to be a great result and is reflective not only of the work carried out by all the stakeholders but also of the community at large that worked with us. Each of us has a role to play in being mindful of the environment, in protecting our pollinators and the health of our communities.

Pat continued: “Irish Water is asking all relevant bodies who can help solve this issue of pesticides in drinking water to continue to work together. We hope through continued engagement actions with all users of pesticides including the farming community, greens keepers, grounds keepers and domestic users, that best practice measures to protect drinking waters are always followed.

Irish Water continues to work at this time with our Local Authority partners, contractors and others to safeguard the health and well-being of both staff and the public and to ensure the continuity of critical drinking water and wastewater services. Irish Water would like to remind people to follow the HSE COVID-19 advice and ensure frequent handwashing.