Public Consultation on General Scheme of Water Environment (Abstractions) Bill 2018
Minister Eoghan Murphy has announced a six week public consultation on the General Scheme of the Water Environment (Abstractions) Bill 2018.
The Water Environment (Abstractions) Bill 2018 provides for the introduction of a regime for the control of the abstraction of water on a risk-based approach, as signalled in the River Basin Management Plan published in April 2018, in order to comply with Ireland’s obligations under the Water Framework Directive.
The 6-week process of public consultation on the Bill will commence today and a summary of the proposals, plus the General Scheme, is now published on the Department’s website. Submissions are invited from stakeholders and interested parties and this process will inform the further development of the draft legislation. Following completion of the public consultation on 12 October 2018 detailed drafting of the Bill will commence and the Minister hopes to formally publish the legislation in autumn 2018.
In launching the public consultation, Minister Murphy said “While we are fortunate to have a low level of abstraction pressure compared to other EU member states, the current drought situation highlights the need for long-term good water resource management. The availability, and good management, of raw water in Ireland is critical to our environmental and developmental sustainability. I look forward to receiving interested parties’ submissions on these proposals and to working with key stakeholders in the coming months on the development of a robust legislative control framework.”
The Minister also noted that a register of abstractions, to be managed by the Environmental Protection Agency, was formally established on 16 July 2018. Existing abstractors have until 16 November to register any abstraction of 25 cubic metres per day, or more, via an online portal. To put the 25 cubic metre threshold into context, it equates to the total daily water usage of approximately 100 households. Therefore, no individual household with a domestic well will need to register.
Registration is not intended to be a control mechanism in and of itself and nor does it signify consent by the Agency to an abstraction. However, it will enable the EPA to build up a nationwide picture of the extent and size of current abstractions in order to better manage abstractions in areas of high risk in future. No fee is payable for registration.
Notes for Editors
The EU Water Framework Directive requires Ireland to have a system in place for the registration and control of the abstraction of water. A commitment to introduce legislation in this area was included in the “River Basin Management Plan 2018 – 2021” which was published in April 2018.
The only legislation at present that deals with the abstraction of water is the Water Supplies Act 1942, which is focused on the abstraction of water for public supply, and we do not currently have powers to regulate large-scale private abstractions of water that might have negative impacts on the water environment. This Bill proposes a three-tiered registration and licensing system for the abstraction of water, with the EPA responsible for establishing and maintaining a database of registrations and for licensing.
At the lowest tier, all abstractors will need to abide by a set of general binding rules relating to water conservation and public health issues. Abstractors of 25 cubic metres or more per day will be required to register with the EPA. Thereafter, only those abstracting very large quantities of water will be required to apply to the EPA for a licence. Abstractors of 2,000 cubic metres or more will automatically be required to apply for a licence and those abstracting 250 cubic metres or more in specific areas, where the EPA deems the abstractions to be of potential significance, will also be required to apply for a licence. It is estimated that around 6% of water bodies in Ireland are potentially at environmental risk due to abstraction pressures.
The European Union (Water Policy) (Abstractions Registration) Regulations 2018 (S.I. 261 of 2018), made under the European Communities Act 1972, has established a register of abstractions to be managed by the EPA with effect from 16 July 2018. All current abstractors of 25 cubic metres or more per day are required to register via an online portal http://www.epa.ie/licensing/watwaste/watabs/ and the EPA has been liaising since 16 July with Irish Water and the National Federation of Group Water Schemes, which together account for the volumetric bulk of such abstractions, regarding the registration of their abstractions. The EPA has published a “Quick Abstraction Volume Estimator” on its website to assist abstractors in deciding if they need to register a particular abstraction. There is no charge for registration.
Registration will enable the EPA to build up a nationwide picture of the extent and size of current abstractions in order to better manage abstractions in areas of high risk in future. All existing abstractors will be allowed to continue abstracting water in the first instance. When a clear national picture of abstraction pressures has been finalised, the EPA will be in a better position when a registration or a licence is due for renewal to assess particular water pressures and attach conditions or refuse registration or licensing if necessary. It is intended to charge an administrative fee for licence applications similar to that required at present for Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control (IPPC) and waste licences issued by the EPA in order to make the regulatory regime self-funding.