Sustainable Water Network Newsletter Feb 21

Dear readers,

This month we bring plenty of water policy updates: progress on the Water Environment (Abstractions) Bill; the long awaited MPA Advisory Group report; action you can take to support a call for reform of an archaic law damaging our rivers; along with lots of public consultations, water events and water news.

Take care,

The SWAN Team

In this SWAN Newsletter

Oireachtas Committee calls for major changes to flawed Water Environment (Abstractions) Bill | MPA Advisory Group report and consultation launched |Petition calling for reform of Arterial Drainage Act Stories from the Waterside | Public consultations & funding opportunities | Upcoming water eventsLatest water news

Features

Oireachtas Committee calls for major changes to flawed Water Environment (Abstractions) Bill

Late last year, the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Housing, Local Government and Heritage undertook pre-legislative scrutiny of the General Scheme of the Water Environment (Abstractions) Bill.

The Sustainable Water Network (SWAN) appeared before the Committee warning legislators that the proposed Bill was in breach of key EU environmental directives including the EU Water Framework Directive. SWAN also flagged that the Bill set regulation thresholds so high that a substantial majority of water abstractions would remain unregistered and unmonitored, potentially having serious implications for the local environment and future rural water supply.

At the end of last month the Oireachtas Committee published a unanimous reporthighlighting key flaws with the Bill and proposing clear recommendations to bring the proposed legislation in line with EU law and with corresponding laws in neighbouring jurisdictions such as Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales.

SWAN welcomed the findings and recommendations of the report and has urged the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage to take on board the Committee’s recommendations and amend Bill accordingly.

Sinéad O’Brien, SWAN Coordinator said: “We very much welcome the report from the Oireachtas Committee and the fact that it has adopted many of our recommendations. The proposed Bill is very much light touch regulation and very simply, would fail to comply with EU law. As it stands, the Bill is a long way off providing meaningful controls of the extraction of our most precious resource. It sets exemption thresholds so ridiculously high that the majority of water abstractions would remain unmonitored and unregulated, including agricultural and commercial abstractions.

“Over-abstraction of water creates all sorts of risks for the local environment including potential depletion of wetlands and damage to biodiversity. With climate change, we’re likely to see future droughts and increased water shortages; we must closely monitor and regulate our water resources now, to protect them for the future. We’re urging the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage to adopt the recommendations of this report and get this legislation right to protect our water environment and future water supply.”

Read the Joint Committee on Housing, Local Government and Heritage Report on Pre-Legislative Scrutiny of the General Scheme of the Water Environment (Abstractions) Bill here.

Read SWAN’s opening statement to the Joint Committee on Housing, Local Government and Heritage on the Water Environment (Abstractions) Bill here.

Read SWAN’s report ‘Water Abstraction: Interactions with the Water Framework Directive & Groundwater Directive and Implications for the Status of Ireland’s Waters’ here.

‘Expanding Ireland’s Marine Protected Area Network’ – Marine Protected Area Advisory Group report and consultation launched

At the end of January, the long awaited MPA Expert Advisory Group report was published. The report was written by an expert advisory group which was formed in December 2019 at the request of the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government. The report is an important step towards establishing an ecologically coherent network of MPAs in Ireland.

At present, Ireland protects just over 2% of our marine territory; this is far off the 2020 target of protecting 10% of our ocean (which Ireland committed to in 2010) and the 2030 target of 30% protection referred to in the Programme for Government and reaffirmed by Ireland’s recent commitment to an international coalition for the protection of nature. The comprehensive report makes a number of welcome recommendations on designation, governance, management and stakeholder engagement (among others). It is now crucial that the Government moves urgently to implementation and action in order to protect our declining marine species and habitats.

A public consultation on the report began on 17 February and will run until 30 July. SWAN will be reviewing the report in detail and engaging with members in order to develop our full response to the consultation. View the report and consultation details here.

Petition calling for reform of the Arterial Drainage Act

The Arterial Drainage Act is an archaic and problematic piece of legislation which was enacted in 1945 and has remained largely unchanged since then. It requires the OPW (Office of Public Works) to ‘maintain’ 11,000km of rivers in Ireland. The current interpretation of maintenance means dredging the river-bottom, scraping and straightening the banks, and often clearing away river-side vegetation which is home to so much wildlife. This is done to keep adjoining agricultural land that would otherwise be wetland and floodplain ‘productive’. This activity flies in the face of EU water law the Water Framework Directive and reduces our resilience to climate change. The Irish Wildlife Trust have launched a petition calling on the Minister of State with responsibility for Office of Public Works to reform the Arterial Drainage Act. For more information and to sign the petition see here.

Stories from the Waterside

Stories from the Waterside was initially a story writing competition held by the Local Authorities Water Programme (LAWPRO) in May 2020. LAWPRO received over 470 stories from people right across the island of Ireland, and even further afield from Irish diaspora. Stories included water themes involving wildlife, fishing, heritage, traditions, crafts, and ways in which nature can inspire the imagination and replenish one’s sense of wellbeing. The stories have been published on a stunning website which was launched on 02 February 2021. See: https://storiesfromthewaterside.ie/

Public Consultations & Funding Opportunities

Public Consultation on Proposed Agri-Environment Results Based Pilot Project

The Programme for Government commits to rewarding farmers for adapting to more sustainable methods of farming and to the development of a new agri-environment scheme capable of delivering broad environmental and biodiversity benefits that will align financial supports with climate objectives. To advance this objective funding has been made available for an agri-environment pilot project. Views of interested parties regarding the design and implementation of the results based pilot are now being sought by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine. The consultation will run until 26 February 2021. Full details available here.

Public Consultation on National Water Resources Plan (NWRP) Draft Framework

The National Water Resources Plan (NWRP) is a 25 year strategy which will set out how Irish Water will balance the supply and demand for drinking water over the short, medium and long term. Irish Water is now inviting feedback on the NWRP draft Framework Plan and associated SEA Environmental Report and Natura Impact Statement (NIS). Deadline for submissions has been extended to 1 March 2021. Full details available here.

European Commission consultation on new EU Forestry Strategy

As part of the European Green Deal, the European Commission has launched an online public consultation on the development of a new EU Forest Strategy. The consultation seeks to gather the views of citizens, institutions and organisations from the public and private sectors on how to overcome the challenges forests face, in particular in relation to climate change, biodiversity loss, their role in rural areas, socio‑economic welfare, and disaster risk management. Deadline for submissions is 19 April 2021. Full details available here.

‘Towards a Policy Framework for Inland Fisheries in Ireland – A Roadmap’ call for input

The Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications (DECC) is developing a policy and regulatory framework for inland fisheries in Ireland. The first step is the publication of ‘Towards a Policy Framework for Inland Fisheries in Ireland – A Roadmap’. The roadmap contains information about the inland fisheries sector, and its potential in Ireland, while mapping out the next stages in this policy development. The roadmap is broadly intended for those who have an interest in angling, fisheries, rural development, biodiversity, natural habitats, water quality, climate action and wider sustainability. During the policy development phase, there will be an opportunity to be involved in developing this framework. The Department is calling on anyone who wants to become involved in this process to make contact by email or post. See more info here.

Public Consultation on ‘Expanding Ireland’s Marine Protected Area Network’ – MPA Advisory Group report

The Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage and the Minister of State with responsibility for Heritage and Electoral Reform are inviting submissions, observations and comments on the report of an expert advisory group on marine protected areas (MPAs) entitled “Expanding Ireland’s Marine Protected Area Network”. The aim of this public consultation is to invite views on the process by which Ireland’s network of MPAs will be expanded. Deadline for submissions is 30 July 2021. Full details available here.

Water Events

Roscommon Environmental Network – Stories from the Boyle River (7:00- 8:30pm, 22 February 2021)Each person living or visiting the River, and its tributary lakes rivers and streams, has their own particular relationship with it. This evening of conversation is intended to explore those relationships as they illuminate the many aspects of the River that bring physical, emotional and spiritual wealth into our lives. Participants are invited to take part and share memories, music, writings, anecdotes, fishing and boating tales or perhaps stories from history. See details and registration info here.

DCU Water Institute Virtual Water Café: Cooperating to Protect Ireland’s waters: Lessons from 15 years of policy and advocacy (11:00am, 26 February): SWAN Coordinator Sinéad O’Brien is this month’s guest speaker at the DCU Water Café. Sinéad will highlight the main challenges and opportunities for restoring Ireland’s inland and coastal waters and share some reflections of lessons learned from 15 years with the Sustainable Water Network (SWAN) and how these could help us mobilise to become better champions for water. Email ruth.clinton@dcu.ie to secure your place at the virtual café.

Roscommon Environmental Network – Water Conservation Workshop (10:00am – 1:15pm, 27 February 2021): Workshop to seek answers to the following key questions: What is the environmental status of Roscommon’s lakes, rivers and streams? What can we do individually and collectively to improve and conserve their environmental status?
Speakers for this event will include: Professor Frances Lucey, IT Sligo; Professor Ken Whelan; Noreeen Shryane, Catchment Scientist Local Authorities Water Protection Offices (LAWPRO); Sinéad O’Brien, Coordinator of Sustainable Water Network (SWAN); Trish Murphy, Project Manager, Inishowen Rivers Trust. See details and registration info here.

Reimagining Irish Rivers: Working with Nature (22 & 23 March 2021): Two half-day workshop coinciding with World Water Day featuring a host of talks by experts and project leaders in the field of river conservation and management. Registration is free, details here.

Water Ireland Conference 2021 (22 & 23 April 2021): Hosted by Irish Water, the conference will bring together will bring together all the key stakeholders of the water services sector on the island of Ireland and feature a panel of expert speakers (including SWAN Coordinator Sinéad O’Brien). The objective is to create a genuine in-depth understanding of the developments in the water sector and to look to its future development. Full details here.

Irish Wetlands Video Series: This World Wetlands Day marked 50 years since the signing of the Ramsar Convention. To celebrate, the Irish Ramsar Wetlands Committee launched the Irish Wetlands Video Series. The first of the seven video series is currently available on their website, see here.

Water News

Noteworthy Investigation Proposal: Are lax rules on water extraction affecting our local water supplies?
Investigative journalism platform Noteworthy are proposing an investigation into water abstraction in Ireland. Noteworthy wants to examine the gaps in current rules for water abstraction and assess the proposed changes under the Water Abstractions Bill to see if they are fit for purpose. They will also use Freedom of Information requests to gain an insight into how aware authorities are of ongoing abstractions across the country and where there are serious gaps in knowledge. They plan to examine the limited data available to determine which industries have the largest demand for water and how this may be impacting on the supply of water for local communities. Read more here.
Biodiversity group reiterates call for new law after senator welcomes plan to clear river vegetation: Biodiversity campaigners have repeated calls for a complete overhaul of the maintenance of rivers and their surroundings, saying current legislation is completed outdated and unfit for purpose. (Read more)

State is ‘biggest transgressor of environmental law’, says report: Biodiversity loss continuing due to political failures, ecologists warn. (Read more)

Ireland faces losing thousands of tonnes from fish quotas after EU investigation: Ireland will have tens of thousands of tonnes of fish deducted from its quotas in the coming years and faces losing up to €40 million in European funding after an EU investigation into the State’s application of Common Fisheries Policy rules. (Read more)

Future of a diverse and productive marine life lies in our hands: Ireland must increase the number of its protected areas to safeguard habitats, species, and ecosystems on our coasts and waterways (Read more)

The science of bogslides: We must learn how to judge the risks: The causes of peat landslides are many but human activities can increase the danger. (Read more)

Thousands at risk by drinking unclean private water supplies: Thousands of people are putting their lives at risk by drinking from private water supplies that are unclean or untested. (Read more)

Underwater photographer of the year 2021 winners – in pictures: Underwater photographer of the year, a global annual competition based in the UK, celebrates photography beneath the surface of the ocean, lakes, rivers and even swimming pools. (Read more)

Some lands are meant to flood: Minister says “millions, if not billions, of euro” spent on flood defences should be spent supporting farmers and landowners implementing nature-based solutions. (Read more)

Plea for closer cross-border cooperation on nature, climate: Teenage environmentalist and author Dara McAnulty has made a heartfelt plea for cross-border cooperation on climate change and nature. (Read more)

Cabinet signs off on new oil and gas exploration ban: The Cabinet has signed off on introducing legislation to ban new applications for gas and oil exploration licences. (Read more)

Government announces major review of National Parks & Wildlife Service: A strategic review of the role of National Parks & Wildlife Service (NPWS) has been announced by the Government. (Read more)

Bottom trawling ban for key UK fishing sites: Two of the UK’s most sensitive fishing sites are set to receive better protection. (Read more)

Ministers put energy above marine protection, say campaigners: The government is prioritising industry-funded offshore wind and wave energy projects over its international commitments on marine protected areas, an environmental group has said. (Read more)

Most water extraction to go unregulated, environment groups warn: Bill to track water usage and identify rivers under environmental strain is ‘light-touch’. (Read more)

Judge says State showed ‘astonishing reluctance’ on environmental law: A senior judge has said Ireland displayed “astonishing reluctance” to comply with EU environmental laws. (Read more)

TDs seek tighter rules on water use: New laws regulating water usage by businesses and other heavy users are not strict enough and will allow many operate under the radar. (Read more)

Why otters are taking up residence in our towns and cities: Analysis: otters are attracted to cities for their rivers, which are rich with such prey as fish, eels and water birds (Read more)

Galway fish farm no longer allowed to bathe diseased salmon in lake water: Permission to pump freshwater from lake on Gorumna Island overturned by High Court (Read more)

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