Ireland's 'green' image at risk as pollution hits a third of waterways

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The Independent Online

The price of Ireland's headlong race for modernisation is being paid in polluted rivers. Almost one-third of the country's waterways - famous among anglers the world over - suffer from a degree of contamination, according to a report which is causing concern in a country that prides itself on its environment.

The price of Ireland's headlong race for modernisation is being paid in polluted rivers. Almost one-third of the country's waterways - famous among anglers the world over - suffer from a degree of contamination, according to a report which is causing concern in a country that prides itself on its environment.

Although most of the Republic's water quality is given a clean bill of health, a significant number of rivers are polluted, together with a smaller percentage of lakes. The highly detailed report paints a picture of a country which has made some effort to address water problems, but which is struggling to improve standards in a number of areas.

The report, from the Environmental Protection Agency, said that over- enrichment of rivers, lakes and tidal waters was the main threat, adding that advances made in the 1990s had not been sustained.

The main difficulties tend to be in the more heavily populated east of the Irish Republic - the Barrow and the Boyne are particularly badly hit - with more sparsely populated areas such as the south-west having many fewer problems. The west and the south receive generally good reports, though an exception is the Shannon basin on the Atlantic, where conditions have deteriorated.

The Environment Minister, Dick Roche, said: "We must address every source of pollution - agriculture, urban waste water, industry or any other activity."

The report pointed the finger at agricultural run-offs and municipal discharges, prompting calls for more thorough treatment of sewage and a generally improved performance by local authorities.

A number of improved water treatment plants have started operation since the research was done, so that additional improvement may be under way.

The Irish take pride in living in a country which they regard as particularly green in the environmental sense of the word. They are also aware that the tourist industry could be damaged if the Republic should lose its largely unspoilt image. For these reasons the authorities are likely to make a priority of reducing both agricultural and sewage pollution.

Farmers have long been locked in argument with anglers and environmentalists about the amount of phosphates and nitrates used in agriculture. Nitrate concentrations were found to be significantly above natural levels in several areas, particularly the south and south-east. While instances of serious pollution in rivers and streams have been reduced, 12 per cent of samples were classed as moderately polluted and a further 18 per cent were classed as slightly polluted.

A warning in the report said that intermittent contamination appeared to be relatively widespread, posing a risk for those drinking from such waters without sterilisation.

The conditions in Irish lakes were found to be markedly better, with 91 per cent of lake water deemed satisfactory and all designated freshwater bathing areas fully complying with regulations. Ireland has been in recent trouble with the European Commission and European Court of Justice, which have been critical of its failure to control discharges.

It has adopted a directive specifying that by 2015 all of its waters should be of good quality, with the elimination of the discharge of various harmful substances.

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