There is a Real Risk of E. coli in our Water

by Aoife
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The government must introduce more measures to stem the contamination of Irish water supplies in 2020, says Mary Mulcahy, co-founder of Ireland Water, in today’s (23rd January 2020) The Echo paper.

Improper spreading of slurry and subpar septic tanks are threatening the quality of our water and as a result there is a very real risk of E. coli and other contamination-related side-effects. As we approach a new year, we are taking stock of developments to date and looking at what action needs to be taken over the next 12 months and beyond. The beginning of this year started out with promising announcements around the Multi-Annual Rural Water Programme – the investment programme for water services in rural areas which included an increase in the maximum grant for refurbishment works to a domestic well from €2,031 to €3,000, as well an extension to the eligibility for the grant scheme.

It is imperative that Government and the relevant bodies keep their foot on the gas when it comes to ensuring cleaner and more environmentally friendly water treatment systems in 2020.
Reports from the EPA throughout the year paint a worrying picture of the flagging standards of septic tanks and other domestic water treatment systems in Ireland. The stakes are high when it comes to public welfare and environmental protection. We have been in this industry for 20 years and while the quality of water in Ireland is good by international standards, we cannot afford to be complacent in our approach as there are still issues that need to be addressed. As with anything of this nature, the potential for environmental pollution and a negative impact on the health of the nation is great and, as contamination of water could have disastrous consequences for those affected, these issues need to be dealt with the gravitas they deserve.

One report points to fact that over half of the 2,000 inspections of septic tanks and other domestic wastewater treatment systems in 2017 and 2018 failed inspection because they were not built or maintained properly. While the latest EPA report found that sewage from the equivalent of 77,000 people in 36 towns and villages is released into the environment every day without treatment. 

While works to upgrade water supply schemes are ongoing by Irish Water, the EPA suggest that there are a large number of schemes around the country still at risk of contamination – upto 60 serving an estimated 551,078 customers. A good number of these schemes serve the country’s most populated residential areas, such as parts of South Co. Dublin, Wicklow, Cork City and Kilkenny, as well as popular tourist areas in Cork and Kerry.  
We see that there are two primary issues affecting the quality of water in various, particularly rural, locations around the country – namely, the improper spreading of slurry and the sub-par maintenance of household septic tanks and wastewater treatment systems.

There are nearly half a million domestic wastewater treatment systems (DWWTS) used by rural householders to treat sewage in Ireland and most (90%) are septic tanks A very large percentage of these are not meeting the standards required and even after this has been pointed out, a large portion remain unfixed. What’s more the EPA’s research tells us that treatment at 21 of Ireland’s 169 large towns and cities did not meet national and European standards set to protect the environment. There is a very real risk of E. coli and other contamination-related side-effects for these homes and businesses and the surrounding areas.

We are advocating for a hastening of the pace at which Government and local authorities are addressing these issues, and perhaps more sanctioning for those who don’t abide by the existing guidelines. The way local authorities deal with this issue varies from county to county also – there is not a uniform approach to penalties and sanctions when perhaps there should be.

We applaud the decision to extend and expand the septic tank grant so that it’s no longer means tested. We all have a role to play in taking care of ourselves and our environment. People need the backing and the support of the Government, but they also need to take personal responsibility. From what we have seen to date, most people are more than willing to do just this.

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