Irish Water has published a long-term National Wastewater Sludge Management Plan (NWSMP) that outlines its strategy to ensure a nationwide, standardised approach for the management, treatment, transport, storage and disposal of wastewater sludge over the next 25 years. Through a national approach, the Plan will ensure efficiencies and make on-going improvements to the benefit of our customers and the environment we all live in.

Wastewater sludge is what remains in a wastewater treatment plant after the treated water has been discharged to our rivers and seas. It is made up mainly of energy rich organic matter that has been removed during the treatment process and is a valuable by-product of the wastewater treatment process. Further treatment is required to this sludge to ensure the safe and efficient re-use or disposal of this resource. The management of this sludge from the wastewater we all create poses economic, planning and environmental challenges.

Since its incorporation in 2014, Irish Water has taken over the responsibility of providing water and wastewater services in Ireland from 31 local authorities. This includes managing approximately 1,000 wastewater treatment plants.

Currently 98% of wastewater sludge is treated to produce a biosolids product, which is being reused in agriculture. There are very limited alternative options currently available in Ireland. In response to feedback from two public consultations, the NWSMP focuses on future biosolids use being targeted at crops such as non-agricultural and crops for animal feed. A feasibility study will also be carried out to investigate alternative outlets for sludge reuse in order to reduce the risks associated with depending on a single outlet for wastewater sludge.

Irish Water’s Plan focusses on quality assurance, monitoring and reporting on a national level which will include an annual audit of the management activities pending the development of a full wastewater treatment quality assurance scheme, in addition to the development of Standard Operating Procedures.

The Plan also proposes that a network of hub treatment centres and satellite dewatering sites be further developed to optimise the balance between treatment and transport costs. The location of ‘hubs’ will be considered on a regional rather than county basis and will maximise the use of energy recovery where possible.

Speaking at the launch, Irish Water’s Head of Asset Management, Sean Laffey, said: “I am delighted that Irish Water is publishing the National Wastewater Sludge Management Plan at the National Ploughing Championships today. The Plan outlines our strategic, sustainable approach to this crucial issue. This Plan has been influenced by widespread and comprehensive consultation from the earliest stages of development and, given that the reuse of sludge obviously has big implications for farming and rural communities, Irish Water is grateful for the engagement of individuals, organisations and representative groups. It was essential for us to get as diverse a view as possible on this issue as that will help to ensure the effective management of sludge from the treatment of the wastewater we all create. As a single national utility, Irish Water has the capacity and the expertise to ensure that a strategic, standardised national approach can be taken to the management of wastewater sludge. This 25-year strategy sets out how we will improve the way wastewater sludge is managed in Ireland, including the introduction of a quality assurance system for the wastewater treatment process from start to finish.”

The NWSMP and associated environmental reports are available to view or download here.

The NWSMP is a 25 year strategy which will be reviewed every five years. It has undergone a Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) and Appropriate Assessment (AA) process. The current NWSMP will be revised and updated in 2021. The actions and objectives as set out in the NWSMP developed in 2016 will be reviewed and progress measured. The revised plan will invite feedback during its development prior to adoption.

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