Highest ever annual investment in wastewater treatment benefits communities across Ireland

20 October 2022

Since 2014 60% of raw sewage discharges by volume have been eliminated

  • €367m invested in wastewater infrastructure in 2021, highest level to date

  • 60% of raw sewage discharges have been eliminated

  • 93% compliance with Urban Wastewater Treatment Directive

  • Impact of urban wastewater on receiving water continues to reduce

 

Communities across Ireland continue to benefit from Irish Water’s progress in improving wastewater treatment, resulting in a cleaner environment, enhanced water quality and greater capacity to support growth and development.

The latest EPA Urban Wastewater Treatment Report for 2021 recognises the ongoing progress being made by Irish Water in upgrading Ireland’s public wastewater infrastructure while also highlighting the need for continued investment in our essential wastewater services.

Since 2014 when Irish Water assumed responsibility for public water services, 60% of raw sewage discharges by volume have been eliminated through targeted investment in new sewerage infrastructure where none existed previously, and we are on target to eliminate nearly all of the remainder by 2025.

This has been achieved by building new wastewater plants and networks in 21 towns across the country where treatment had never existed before. This new infrastructure has stopped the discharge of about 20 million litres of raw sewage every day, which equates to the sewage generated by over 100,000 people. In 2021/2022 we have made significant progress, with 14 new locations where contracts were signed and/or projects started on site, leaving just 15 areas (representing less than 10% of the total volume of raw sewage discharge) to start from 2023 onwards. In some of these areas Irish Water overcame complex planning and approval issues, such as in Arklow where construction of a new wastewater treatment plant got underway in 2021 to end the discharge of raw sewage into the River Avoca.

Another major milestone was reached last year with the completion of the Cork Lower Harbour Main Drainage project which ended the discharge of raw sewage from the equivalent of 20,000 homes and businesses in Cobh, Ringaskiddy, Carrigaline, Crosshaven, Monkstown and Passage West in Cork.

Irish Water’s Infrastructure Delivery Director Brian Sheehan said, “Irish Water is committed to protecting and enhancing our natural environment by ensuring the highest standards are applied to wastewater treatment throughout Ireland. We have prioritised key programmes such as the elimination of raw sewage and upgrading of existing infrastructure. This approach is focussed on the catchments where wastewater is a significant pressure on water quality and where the investment of public money will make a meaningful difference to overall water quality. 

“The scale of delivery of this critical infrastructure is unprecedented: last year we invested €367 million in Ireland’s wastewater – the highest ever in a single year – and we are on track to increase that further over the coming years as we strive to deliver best in class wastewater services for Ireland now and in the future.

“We have seen the impact of these improvements in areas such as Shannon, Co Clare and Cork City where we completed upgrades in 2021. Local residents and businesses are already seeing the benefits of this investment in cleaner waters, improved natural environment and increased opportunities for housing and economic development.”

Irish Water’s targeted programme of investment in existing wastewater infrastructure is also reaping benefits for communities around the country. The building of new treatment plants and upgrading of existing ones has led to continued improvements in the quality of receiving waters. Compliance rates with the Urban Wastewater Treatment Directive remain strong at 93% of plants - up from 81% in 2015. Of those that remain, almost 90% of the total wastewater load that is not yet in compliance with the Directive is represented by the Ringsend agglomeration. Irish Water is currently investing over €500 million in the staged upgrading of Ringsend Wastewater Treatment Plant which will deliver the capacity to treat the wastewater for a population equivalent of 2.4 million while achieving the standards of the Urban Wastewater Treatment Directive by 2025. Irish Water also has plans in place to address any outstanding issues at the remaining non-compliant plants.

As a result of this progress, the impact of urban wastewater on catchment waters has continued to reduce. In the first River Basin Management Plan, prior to the establishment of Irish Water, urban wastewater was identified as the second most dominant pressure on receiving waters; this has now reduced to the fourth and we expect that, by 2027, urban wastewater will be down to seventh, which demonstrates our commitment to improve overall water quality in Ireland’s rivers, lakes and seas. This reflects the significant progress being made by Irish Water in upgrading wastewater infrastructure and optimising operations at wastewater treatment plants.