Tracking Flood Relief Projects, Water Abstraction & Pollution in Irish Rivers
Nitrate loss is most common in freely draining soils, where it leaches readily to groundwater
before being discharged into river systems and onwards to estuaries and coastal waters where it
causes water quality problems. In the freely draining catchments in the south east, nitrate losses
are closely correlated with farm intensity: the higher the application of nitrate to land, the higher
the nitrate concentrations in waters. Nitrogen losses from these catchments in the south east
of the country continue to rise, and are over double the annual losses from catchments in the
EC Reporting on water pollution by nitrates and action programmes taken in vulnerable zones.
Member States shall, in respect of the four-year period following the notification of this Directive and in respect of each subsequent four-year period, submit a report to the Commission containing the information outlined in Annex V.
Note: While the reporting comes from the EPA, they have confirmed that the summary text on farm activities, measures and inspections etc included in the report come directly from the Department of Agriculture Food and the Marine (DAFM).
The raw data on the farm activities, measures and inspections used by DAFM to create the summary in the report is held by DAFM
Article 26(1): It is recommended that DAFM maintains a record of all convictions undertaken under Article 26 and that this record is published on an annual basis to provide a transparent record for the public on compliance with the NAP.
Record is maintained but not published and no plans to change this in the Regs.
Current wording of Article 26(1)
Article 26(12) is the section on record keeping
Article 27: It is recommended that DAFM publicises the results of the monitoring and evaluation in relation to farm practices to allow for the information available to the EPA and the local authorities to be available to the wider public.
Record is maintained but not published and no plans to change this in the Regs.
Article 27 outlines the record keeping requirements
General Mitigation: In the interests of transparency, it is recommended that DAFM publishes the register of holdings that have been authorised to operate under the derogation as well as associated documentation for these holdings (application data, inspection reports, enforcement action, etc.) but excluding any commercial data.
Such a move would provide communities with greater information on the measures to protect the environment in these rural areas and increase confidence in the consent and enforcement processes.
These records are maintained by DAFM and available to designated agencies but DAFM do not propose to publish this register as this contains commercially sensitive information on holdings.
Article 36(2): It is recommended that DAFM establishes and publishes a clear decision making framework for granting of applications under the derogation that is based on the water quality evidence base available.
This framework may include spatial elements whereby applications may be refused in catchments of concern or nutrient sensitive areas and/or other elements such as compliance history, operator performance, etc
DAFM considers the current application process transparent and does not propose to publish any additional information. Note that the significantly increased enforcement regime (see Article 37) will be used to drive greater compliance of these holdings.
Article 37: It is recommended that the report prepared by DAFM for the Commission in June of each year on the monitoring and compliance of the implementation of the derogation should be made available to the public to ensure full transparency on compliance levels and environmental impacts of the holdings operating under the derogation.
This report will continue to be prepared but it is not proposed to publish this report for the public under this NAP.
Article 37: It is recommended that DAFM undertakes a review if the resourcing available to the local authorities to undertake inspections for holdings that operate under the derogations. This should include both quantity (number of personnel, number of inspections) and quality (qualifications, training) of the resources to ensure that these are fit for purpose in all local authorities. Where gaps in resources are identified, DAFM should make available the necessary funding/training as appropriate to ensure that the levels of enforcement within the State are both appropriate and consistent.
Under the AIE Regs to request details of the records of the monitoring and evaluation in relation to farm practices received by the EPA from DAFM under the Fourth NAP
Under the AIE Regs to request details of the records of the monitoring and evaluation in relation to farm practices (as forwarded to EPA and local authorities) under the Fourth NAP
Under the AIE Regs to request details of the records of convictions under the Fourth NAP
Under the AIE Regs to request a copy of the register of holdings that have been authorised to operate under the derogation as well as associated documentation for these holdings (application data, inspection reports, enforcement action, etc.) but excluding any commercial data, under the Fourth NAP
Response from DAFM (30/3/22)
I have been in contact with the relevant division and they have given me the following information:
“Convictions are not within the remit of this Division, but is for Local Authorities. This request is proper to the Department of Housing.”
Response from Housing (31/3/22)
I have liaised with the relevant business unit and they have confirmed that the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage does not maintain a record of convictions under the Good Agricultural Practices regulations. Under the 2017 Regulations, that give effect to the fourth Nitrates Action Programme (NAP), a prosecution for a summary offence can be taken by a local authority or the EPA. As a result, you will need to contact these bodies for the information you require.
The recommendation that DAFM maintains a record of all convictions was a suggestion for inclusion in the fifth NAP, which only came into effect with the signing of the 2022 Good Agricultural Practices regulations earlier this month.
Contacted EPA to rule them in or out as the authority that maintains records under the 4th NAP (31/3/22)
If the EPA don’t (and it’s unlikely) then perhaps the local authorities maintain their own reports?
In 2020, DAFM carried out 733 full cross-compliance inspections on farms, down from 1,422 in 2019. Of the 733 full cross-compliance inspections, 89 resulted in farmers being hit with a financial penalty under SMR 1 – the protection of water against pollution caused by nitrates.
Additional clarification from Housing (4/4/22)
Each local authority maintains their own records on prosecutions. The local authorities collated the number of inspections annually under various headings. This data was summarised and provided annually to the EPA for the EPA Inspection and Enforcement Activity Reports, which are available on the EPA website.
As part of the fifth Nitrates Action Programme, the EPA will be the competent authority for tracking the inspections.
DHLGH does not hold information on prosecutions or convictions in relation to the GAP Inspections.
Local Authorities cross-report non-compliance to DAFM. DAFM can then penalise farm holders by applying a penalty on their basic payment. DAFM do not hold data on local authority convictions.
Source: WFD National Technical Implementation Group, Minutes May 2020
“Nanny PAA: Initial Local Characterisation Assessment has identified nutrient issues in the PAA, however these issues are coming from an upstream area that is not within this PAA. Therefore, ASSAP are not currently working in these areas. At present, LAWPRO do not expect improvement in this PAA by the end of the 2 nd Cycle in 2021. Hence, the Nanny should be considered as a PAA for Cycle 3 with an enlarged catchment area that includes these upstream areas with nutrient issues”
Desktop study for Lower Nanny
Note: list of PAAs where catchment assessment is impacted by pressures upstream of the area under consideration
Source: An Overview of Ireland’s Fifth Nitrates Action Programme
On average, approximately 3,400 Nitrates related inspections are undertaken on farms across Ireland each year by local authority and Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM) personnel.
The level of compliance with the requirements of the GAP regulations varies from county to county but it is generally considered to be low, relative to compliance with other national legislation.
Submissions received during three consultation stages on Nitrates Action Programme, and discussions with local authority personnel suggests that reform of the overall enforcement of the GAP regulations is required to: – Further improve compliance levels, – Ensure local authorities are adequately resourced, – Prioritise targeting of high-risk areas.
Not expected that there will be significant changes to the enforcement powers of authorised personnel within the GAP regulations
National local authority agricultural inspection programme will be put in place by local authorities and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that includes: a) undertaking a review of the local authority inspection programme to be completed every four years. b) developing, in consultation with other appropriate bodies, a National Agricultural Inspection Programme to include recommending, and potentially, directing local authorities on where to prioritise inspections using a risk-based approach taking water quality data and other environmental risk factors into consideration. c) local authorities keeping appropriate records and submitting these to the EPA annually. d) The EPA, local authorities and the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine identifying the necessary training needs for all personnel carrying out farm Inspections.
In 2022, the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage will issue a Circular to the EPA and local authorities providing more detail on the National Agricultural Inspection Programme.
A key focus of the Programme will be ensuring that follow up-inspections of non-compliant farms are undertaken, enforcement notices are issued and cases are prosecuted where necessary.
Steps will also be taken to ensure that all non-compliant farms are cross-reported to DAFM which will result in penalties.
Separately, an assessment of resources within the water environment functional area of local authorities, and specifically the agricultural inspection programme is ongoing by the County and City Management Association and will be included as a measure under the 3rd Cycle River Basin Management Plan.
These activities will build on work being undertaken by the EPA, local authorities and other members of the Network for Ireland’s Environmental Compliance and Enforcement (NIECE).
In addition DAFM has committed to increasing their nitrates derogation inspection programme from 5% of all derogation farms to 10% of all derogation farms on an annual basis. This is to be done using a risk based approach and additional risk category/categories will be added to ensure targeting in the most at risk areas.
The Programme sets out new measures that have been introduced since the Fourth Programme.
Ireland’s Nitrates Action Programme is given effect by the European Communities (Good Agricultural Practice for Protection of Waters) Regulations 2022 (S.I. No. 113 of 2022). The regulations contain specific measures to protect surface waters and groundwater from nutrient pollution arising from agricultural sources.
The Fifth Nitrates Action Programme was developed following an initial public consultation, which was held in late 2020, and a second consultation period that concluded in September 2021. A third consultation period focused on the draft Natura Impact Statement and draft Strategic Environmental Assessment for the Programme was concluded on January 2022. Approximately 700 submissions were received during the three consultation periods and these have informed the final Programme.
What’s new in the Programme?
There have been a number of measures strengthened and added to the Programme since the Fourth Nitrates Action Programme and include the following:
Register of Chemical Fertiliser Sales to be established by Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM) for 2023
Improving Compliance and Enforcement –The EPA will develop and implement a National Agricultural Inspection Programme for local authorities. These inspections will be more targeted and risk-based with a stronger focus on compliance and follow-up enforcement. DAFM will increase derogation inspections from 5 to 10%
Slurry and Soil Water Storage and Management – dates of closed period extended
Livestock Excretion Rates – Three new excretion rate bands are being introduced which will be calculated as 80kg/ha, 92 kg/ha and 106 kg/ha. This means that to remain below the maximum permitted organic nitrogen loads of 250 kg/ha in derogation, there will have to be less cows per ha
Chemical Fertiliser Control – This will start with 10% reduction of chemical nitrogen applied nationally and may be increased to a 15% reduction nationally after the midterm interim review of the programme
Sewage/Industrial Sludges – There will be a review of management and oversight
P Build-Up – This is available to farmers above 130kg/ha
Green Cover on Tillage Ground – To reduce any potential losses of nutrients post-harvest cultativation/ crop sewing will happen within tighter timelines. Further measures will be introduced in the coming months to address concerns on loss of feeding areas for birds
Crude Protein in Concentrate Feeds – a maximum crude protein content of 15% is allowed in concentrate feedstuff fed to grazing livestock between 15 April and 30 September
Organic Matter Determination – from 2022, all soils greater than 20% Organic Matter are required to be soil tested for Organic Matter
Soil Tests are compulsory for holding above 170kg/ha by 2022, and by 2023 for holdings above 130kg/ha and for sown arable land
Grazing Land Management – for nutrient planning the stocking rate for commonage is 50kg/ha and * Review of technical tables –Some tables have been updated with the most recent scientific evidence and some tables will be updated in time for the interim review when the scientific evidence is available
Phased approach for Low Emission Slurry Spreading (2023-2025) for farms above 100kg/ha and must also be used for the application of pig slurry
Interim Review of the Programme within 2 years.
An Overview of Ireland’s Fifth Nitrates Action Programme
Reports submitted annually to EU in respect of the Nitrates Derogation, which also contains information on general compliance with the Nitrates regulations, information from the Agricultural Catchments programme (administered by Teagasc) and EPA reports
Drinking Water Audit Report in respect of Audit carried out on 02/03/21 at Barndarrig Public Drinking Water Supply.
Irish Water issued a Do Not Consume Notice to 220 consumers of Barndarrig public water supply on 09/02/21 due to nitrite exceedances in the final water at Barndarrig water treatment plant. The incident was suitably escalated and managed in order to protect public health.
Investigations into the cause of the nitrite contamination have been inconclusive to date. Irish Water and Wicklow County Council should complete the investigations and identify any remedial measures necessary to address potentially polluting activities in the zone of contribution to the borehole source.
Daily samples are taken (Monday to Friday) for analysis of nitrite
To date, the investigation has been inconclusive in determining the cause of the nitrite contamination of the borehole source
Irish Water plans to install a continuous nitrite monitor at Barndarrig water treatment plant to provide real time data and to serve as a warning system if nitrite levels rise again
During the audit, neither Irish Water or Wicklow County Council could rule out the possible impact of recent slurry spreading in the area or leakage from the sewer network in the vicinity
EPS Ireland representatives confirmed there is 36 to 48 hours storage of treated water in the reservoir at Barndarrig water treatment plant. This will allow the plant to be shut down temporarily if nitrite levels exceed a critical level, when the continuous nitrite monitor is in place at the plant
Nutrients such as nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P) are essential elements for the plants. They are often used as fertilisers in agriculture to guarantee higher yields and quality products. However, the increasing demand in food production has resulted in an increased production and use of fertilisers associated with considerable inefficiencies, leading to pollution of water, air and soil, affecting human health and the environment.
At a global level, N and P surplus into the environment are already exceeding safe planetary boundaries, representing a severe threat to nature as well as to the climate 1 . Europe makes a considerable contribution to this form of pollution and the European Environment Agency (EEA) estimates that in Europe the limit for N losses is exceeded by a factor of 3.3 and the limit for P losses by a factor of 2 2 .
The Biodiversity 3 and the Farm to Fork 4 strategies set a common objective of reducing nutrient losses in the environment by at least 50% by 2030, while preserving soil fertility. Council Directive 91/676/EEC 5 concerning the protection of waters against pollution caused by nitrates from agricultural sources (“the Nitrates Directive”) is a key piece of legislation to achieve this target and other objectives of the EU Green Deal 6 .
The Nitrates Directive constitutes also a basic measure under the Water Framework Directive (WFD) 7 , which requires all European surface waters – lakes, rivers, transitional and coastal water, and groundwater – to reach “good status” by latest 2027. Together with the Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive (UWWTD) 8 , the Nitrates Directive plays a key role in improving the status of EU water bodies, as nutrient pollution is one of the main causes for failure of good status 9 , 10 . Furthermore, the Nitrates Directive is an essential instrument to prevent nutrient pollution of coastal and marine waters under the Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD) 11 , 12 .
The Nitrates Directive requires Member States to:
–identify waters affected and at risk of being affected by nitrates pollution as well as designate as Nitrates Vulnerable Zones (NVZ) the areas draining into these waters where agriculture contributes significantly to this pollution;
–develop action programmes with measures reducing and preventing nitrates pollution, apply such programmes to NVZ or to the whole territory, and to reinforce these measures as soon as it appears that they are not sufficient to achieve the objectives of the Directive.
It also requires the Commission to inform the European Parliament and the Council every four years on the state of the implementation of the Directive based on Member States reports.
This report is accompanied by a Staff Working Document (SWD(2021) 1001) which includes maps and tables on indicators of nutrient pressures from agricultural sources, water quality and designated NVZ.
This NIS has been prepared to inform the Appropriate Assessment (AA) process required under the Habitats Directive and the European Communities (Birds and Natural Habitats) Regulations 2011. The overall purpose of the AA process is to ensure that the NAP does not result in any adverse effects on the integrity of any European sites in view of its conservation objectives and to detail proposed mitigation measures needed to avoid, reduce or eliminate likely effects on a European Site or adverse effects on the integrity of a European Site.
The purpose of this SEA Report is to inform the development of the NAP, identify describe and evaluate the likely significant effects of the implementation of the NAP and its reasonable alternatives; and provide an opportunity for the statutory authorities and the public to offer views on any aspect through consultation.
The NIS and SEA processes have been, and continue to be iterative, and are assisting in making the final NAP more robust by fully integrating wider environmental considerations into the programme.