What is a catchment?
A catchment is an area of the landscape that catches and collects rainfall and allows it to flow through rivers, lakes and groundwater to the sea. The characteristics and health of water within that catchment reflect both the natural attributes and the human activities within that area. To effectively manage the quality of water in our rivers, lakes and coastal areas we need to look back up along the catchment and understand what happens to water as it makes its journey towards the sea.

This short animation helps to explain what LAWPRO, public bodies and communities are doing to protect and improve water quality in our catchments

Local Catchment Assessment
LAWPRO’s catchment scientists work in areas that are listed in the River Basin Management Plan 2018-2021 as Prioritised Areas for Action (PAAs) because of deteriorated water quality. Local Catchment Assessment is the process we undertake in these areas to understand why water quality has deteriorated and what needs to be done to improve it.

Poor agricultural practice can negatively affect water quality in a river or lake. Where this happens, the advisor with the Agricultural Sustainability, Support and Advisory Programme (ASSAP) works with the farmer to improve farm practices and raise awareness of the water quality issues.

Outside of the PAAs, local authorities continue to inspect farms, septic tanks, and other polluting activities. They also respond to complaints and pollution incidents. All other relevant state agencies continue to work to protect and improve water quality.

Step 1: Improve Scientific Understanding / Desktop Study Report

The first step of LAWPRO’s work in a PAA, is to improve the scientific understanding by gathering and collating all relevant and available data into a Desktop Study Report. This ensures we can focus on the issues that are significantly affecting water quality and the mitigation actions that should prioritised.
The Desktop Study report for a PAA tells us about:

  • Water quality – how water quality has changed over the past 3-6 years and what are the significant water quality issues (e.g. excessive nutrients (ortho-phosphate or nitrate), excessive sediment, organic pollution, poor ecological conditions etc) for the PAA.
  • Importance of waters in the PAA – for example, if water is used for drinking water, aquaculture production, or bathing area and if there are any rare plants or animals here that we need to protect.
  • Connectivity – how the geological features of the landscape influence how water and pollutants flow and are connected across the catchment
  • Impacts from human activities – here we focus on impacts that damage water quality such as wastewater treatment, agriculture, forestry, physical changes to the water.

Step 2 : Community Engagement

LAWPRO hold a Community Information Meeting in each PAA before starting stream assessments and fieldwork. The Community Information Meeting is an opportunity to share LAWPRO’s understanding of issues in the catchment, highlight the work that will be done and also to gather information from the local community. Normally these meetings are held at a location within the PAA, but since March 2020 they have been held on-line due to Covid restrictions.

Teagasc and Co-Op ASSAP advisors hold a farmer information meeting in PAA’s in agricultural areas. All farmers and interested family members are encouraged to attend and to engage in the discussion.

Step 3 : Stream Assessments and Fieldwork

LAWPRO’s catchment scientists do fieldwork and carry out stream assessments to narrow down areas with poor water quality. We use a range of assessment techniques:

  • Additional water samples for chemical analysis
  • Examination of the macroinvertebrates, which are a good indicator of water quality over time due to their different levels of sensitivity to pollution;
  • Assessment of the bed of the river to make sure there is not too much sediment for the invertebrates to live in.
  • Assessment of the aquatic plant life, which can also be a good indicator of water quality problems.
  • Walks along the river bank and/or lake shore to identify possible causes of pollution
  • Identification of possible ways to fix the cause of pollution

Reports on the PAA’s where fieldwork has been completed are available here.

Step 4 : Measures Proposal and Implementation

Once field work is completed, the data gathered will be analysed and interpreted, along with all existing data we recommend appropriate mitigation measures and agree them with the relevant stakeholder, for example:

  • Problems with wastewater treatment discharges will be referred to the Environmental Protection Agency as the licensing authority overseeing Irish Waters operations. Irish Water will review the operation of the relevant plants and aim to address any operational issues. Where Irish Water judges that small capital works are needed, it may consider carrying out these. Where significant works are required, Irish Water will consider timelines for including the works in future capital investment cycles, subject to agreement with other authorities.
  • Where agriculture is contributing to water quality problems, advisors from the Agricultural Sustainability Support and Advisory Programme will provide advice and support to farmers to secure compliance with the requirements of Nitrates Action Programme (NAP) and to promote best environmental practices.
  • Domestic wastewater treatment systems and septic tanks are likely to be affecting quality in PAA’s will be identified by catchment scientists. We will write to these property owners and tell them that they may be eligible to apply for grant funding to help with the costs of repairing, upgrading or replacing such treatment systems.
  • Where commercial forestry is impacting on water quality, we will inform the Forest Service who will secure the measures required to mitigate these impacts.
  • Where other activities are impacting on water quality such as industry, missed connections (sewage discharges to surface water systems in urban areas) LAWPRO will work with Local Authorities and Irish Water to secure the measures required to mitigate these impacts.

In addition to the actions detailed above, there is other work underway to provide additional measures, for example the DHLGH are preparing technical guidance on drainage-maintenance works based on the best available environmental practices.

Step 5 : Recording, Tracking and Monitoring

LAWPRO and the state agencies that form the Regional Operational Committees can monitor the progress on measures being implemented via the EPA WFD Online Application. LAWPRO will publish progress reports here.

Water quality information and the staus of waters can be viewed on www.catchments.ie

Information on the national WFD monitoring programme is available here Monitoring & Assessment: Freshwater & Marine Publications | Environmental Protection Agency