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Coveney publishes draft River Basin Management Plan

Published on Tuesday, 28 Feb 2017
Minister Simon Coveney

-Measures from sectors, including services and agriculture, to improve water quality in rivers, lakes and coastal waters
-New ‘Blue Dot Catchments Programme’ and national water forum
-€1.7 billion to be invested in wastewater infrastructure to 2021

Mr. Simon Coveney T.D., Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government, today (28 February) published the draft River Basin Management Plan (RBMP) for Ireland 2018-2021, which is subject to public consultation for six months from today.

The draft plan outlines measures aimed at protecting and improving the water environment, working towards achieving the Water Framework Directive’s (WFD) objectives. The Directive’s overarching objective is to achieve good water quality in our rivers, lakes, estuaries and other coastal waters. This is to be achieved through catchment-based river basin management planning.

Among the draft plan’s main measures are:

  • planned investment by Irish Water of approximately €1.7 billion in wastewater projects, programmes and improved asset management over the period to 2021 - delivering new or upgraded wastewater treatment plants in 105 agglomerations or urban areas and bringing Ireland into compliance with the Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive;
  • 353 risk assessments of drinking water sources by Irish Water by 2021;
  • 50,000 farmers participating and implementing actions to improve the rural environment, including actions to improve water quality under the Rural Development Programme’s (RDP) €1.4 billion GLAS Scheme (2014-2020). To support these actions, the National Dairy Sustainability Forum will establish a dairy co-op-led pilot knowledge transfer programme on better nutrient management and farm point source pollution management. This will be implemented for dairy farmers supplying cooperatives;
  • a ‘Blue Dot Catchments Programme’, a programme to create awareness and promote best practice to protect our highest quality waters;
  • improved RBMP governance and delivery structures and development of a strengthened evidence base upon which to make decisions;
  • establishment of a national water forum to increase stakeholder and public engagement on all water issues, including WFD implementation – this will involve expanding the remit of the existing Public Water Forum, a consumer forum for Irish Water customers; and
  • establishment of a comprehensive database for water abstractions greater than 25 cubic meters per day.

Commenting on the draft RBMP, Minister Coveney said: “Water is critical to the wellbeing of our society and economy. It is essential that it is protected, managed and used sustainably. Good water quality is vital for protecting the environment, public health and our economy, which sustains over 200,000 water-intensive jobs. The plan aims to protect our water environment and promote the sustainable use of water so that we and future generations will continue to enjoy access to one of our greatest natural resources.

“This plan contains important measures to improve water quality, protect drinking water sources and see a significant increase in wastewater treatment capacity. If we implement these measures with focus and coordination we will see progressive improvement in water quality over time, greater protection of public health and biodiversity and greater economic opportunity.”

Among the main measures in the draft plan is the establishment of a public water forum. Minister Coveney said: “In recent years we have all become more aware of the value of water and the challenges and costs associated with the provision of water services. Ongoing dialogue and debate is needed about water as a resource, water quality as an environmental, social and economic imperative and other aquatic issues. That is why I am establishing a national water forum, to facilitate greater debate and to encourage the public and stakeholders to engage on issues such as this draft plan. I also intend writing to the Public Water Forum very shortly to ask for its views on the draft River Basin Management Plan so that its voice can help shape the final plan.”

“Separate to the proposed national forum, I would encourage all to read and reflect on this plan and to submit their views to my department. We are seeking everyone’s views to help produce the best possible plan.”

Public consultation will run from today until 31 August 2017. The RBMP will be finalised by the end of 2017 and then submitted to the European Commission.

The draft RBMP (2018-2021) can be downloaded from our public consultation page on


Notes for Editors

Public consultation
The Department of Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government welcomes early responses to this consultation, which will facilitate us in considering how the final plan can best reflect the views expressed through this process.

Responses should be submitted, preferably in word format, to: or alternatively can be posted to:

River Basin Management Plan Consultation, Water and Marine Advisory Unit, Department of Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government, Custom House, Dublin 1, D01 W6X0.

Water Framework Directive
The WFD was adopted in October 2000 (Directive 2000/60/EC) and it establishes a framework to protect and restore water bodies across the EU and to ensure the long-term sustainable use of water.

Key objectives of the WFD include the general protection of the water environment, including the protection of water dependent habitats and species and bathing waters. In particular a central objective is that all water bodies, including rivers, lakes, coastal waters and groundwater, achieve at least good status.  The Directive also stresses the importance of ensuring public participation in plan development and implementation. RBMPs must contain an economic analysis of water use.

Member States are obliged to produce RBMPs that, amongst other things, set out a programme of measures to protect and restore water quality and ultimately meet the directive’s objectives. The first river basin management planning cycle covered 2009-2015. This second cycle plan will cover 2018-2021 with a third planning cycle covering the period 2022-2027.

Whilst the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government is responsible for developing the RBMP, due to the cross-cutting nature of water issues a large number of other government departments and agencies were central to developing this plan. These departments and agencies will also be central to its implementation.

Current water quality and pressures on water quality
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has responsibility for monitoring water quality. Status information for the 2013-15 monitoring period shows that, for example, 55% of river water bodies and 46% of lake water bodies are achieving good status or better. There is, therefore, a huge challenge in ensuring the WFD objective of good status for all water bodies is achieved.

Preliminary results from the EPA indicate no overall improvement in water quality over the period of the first river basin management planning cycle. Monitoring also shows a continuing downward trend in the number of “high status” water bodies, i.e. water bodies in near pristine condition.

The WFD requires an assessment of pressures on water bodies that are causing ‘less than good’ status. The analysis for this plan shows a diverse range of pressures on water quality including agriculture, urban waste water, hydromorphology, forestry, peat extraction and septic tanks. The programme of measures outlined in the plan aims to make progress in mitigating these pressures in a targeted way, to improve water quality where necessary.

Expected outcomes from the draft RBMP (2018-2021)

  • Greater protection of 353 public drinking water sources.
  • Improved wastewater treatment in urban areas, with new or upgraded wastewater treatment plants in 105 agglomerations or urban areas.
  • Compliant standards in 6 bathing waters with sub-standard bathing water quality and 16 nutrient sensitive areas with non-compliant discharges.
  • A focus on knowledge transfer in the agriculture sector, resulting in more efficient use of nutrients, economic gains improved water quality.
  • Water quality improvement measures implemented in 600-700 water bodies, with a likely improvement in 150 additional water bodies.
  • Greater public and stakeholder engagement in water issues.
  • Improved governance of river basin management planning and delivery of measures, underpinned by a stronger evidence base, laying the foundations for improved water quality beyond 2021.

New approach to river basin management planning
Pollution of water bodies is a growing problem in the twenty-first century developed world due to increasing industrialisation and agricultural production. This second cycle plan provides a long-term approach to a long-term challenge, underlined by a new approach.

There is a much improved evidence base informing decision-making at both national and local level. The draft plan places a major focus on getting the governance and delivery structures right (national approach to water quality characterisation and measures implemented at the appropriate level) for an effective catchment-based approach. The approach to public consultation and engagement is stronger. Effective measures from the first cycle will continue whilst implementing supporting measures on a prioritised basis. Clear and agreed prioritisation, along with building the necessary capabilities, expertise and structures are central to this. Clear priorities are set out in the plan, which will ensure that all stakeholders are working together with a clear focus on delivering positive outcomes.

This approach is expected to deliver water quality improvements over the period to 2021, but also puts in place the structures and expertise necessary to delivery further improvements in the subsequent period to 2027.

Economic analysis
It is a requirement of the WFD that the RBMP sets out an economic analysis of water use, which takes account of the principles of recovery of the cost of water services. The draft plan provides an economic analysis in terms of estimated volumes of water use and the associated costs for provision of water and waste water services. The current deliberative process in place with regard to future funding of water services is also set out. The final RBMP, to be completed by end 2017, will need to reflect the outcome of the deliberative process.