EPA Discharge Licenses

EPA Discharge Licenses

The Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive (Council Directive 91/271/EEC of 21 May 1991 concerning urban waste-water treatment) was established to lessen pollution levels in water bodies within the European Union. It sets out a standard which all waste water must achieve before it can be discharged into receiving waters. Ensuring the proper implementation of waste water treatment prevents estuarine, riverine and coastal eco-systems from detrimental impacts, and prevents risks to public health as pollutants and pathogens are removed to a safe level.

In order to give effect to the UWWTD, the Government implemented S.I. No. 684/2007 – Waste Water Discharge (Authorisation) Regulations 2007 which recognised the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as the regulating authority in issuing and certifying waste discharge licences to Water Service Authorities. These licences contain conditions which must be met to ensure adequate standards are achieved through the primary, secondary and tertiary processing of wastewater before it is discharged into water bodies.

The EPA assesses and monitors pollution levels through licence holders fulfilling their obligations as required by the licence agreement. Requirements such as supplying an annual environmental report, incidence reports, and informing the EPA of complaints made by members of the public are integral to the enforcement of wastewater discharge licences. The EPA may detect non-compliance through this information and therefore the public play a vital role in alerting potential issues through observing and submitting complaints regarding deteriorating water quality.

To date, the Court of Justice of the European Union has found that Ireland has been failing to comply with the Directive through the insufficient capacity and infrastructure of current wastewater treatment plants in Ireland. The EPA’s ‘Urban Waste Water Treatment Report 2019’ stated that at the end of 2019 there were 35 localities that were releasing untreated waste water into the environment. Irish Water stated that by 2021 they would implement treatments in 30 out of the 35 towns where untreated wastewater was being released, however, the EPA notes that this has been revised down to 2 out of the 35 by 2021.

Additionally, there are 48 areas in Ireland where wastewater pollution has been identified as the main pressure on waters which are ‘at risk of pollution’ which the EPA notes is a derogation from the Water Framework Directive (2000/60/EC establishing a framework for Community action in the field of water policy) which seeks to improve and maintain water quality in the EU. The EPA in their 2019 Water Quality Report stated that the main issue that is affecting water quality is phosphorous and nitrogen arising from the release of waste water which can cause major risks to endangered species such as the Freshwater Pearl Mussel, which is protected under the Habitats Directive (Council Directive 92/43/EEC of the 21st of May 1992 on the Conservation of Natural Habitats and of Wild Fauna and Flora).

The EPA further stated in the ‘Urban Waste Water Treatment Report 2019’ that it is imperative for the State to increase funding for the upgrades of Ireland’s treatment plants in order to comply with our legal obligations. Further, the EPA noted that if the State invested more in the maintenance of the treatment centres then taxpayers’ money would be saved from being spent on the payment of Commission fines for failing to comply with the Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive and potentially the Water Framework Directive. As a result, this effort would be mutually beneficial for the environment and the economy.

June 2021

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