The Irish Wildlife Trust has responded to the public consultation from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on the redesignation of hundreds of water bodies as ‘highly modified’(see our response here 1). Under the EU’s Water Framework Directive (WFD) Ireland was to have achieved ‘good status’ for all our water bodies by 2015 (today around half are failing to reach this standard).
Where rivers are impounded by dams or buried under city streets there is a mechanism within the WFD to designate these water bodies as ‘highly modified’, thereby removing the requirement to restore them to their natural state. However, this can only be triggered where there are no alternatives to full restoration.
In Ireland, hundreds of water bodies are in a degraded state due to arterial drainage schemes that have drastically altered the shapes of rivers, cutting them off from their natural floodplains or removing the natural vegetation from their banks. Similarly, there are dozens of dams, such as hydroelectric installations, that have had a serious negative impact upon fish life. In the case of the Carrigadrohid Dam on the River Lee in Cork, the globally unique flooded forest of the Gearagh was all but destroyed – but could be restored were the dam to be removed.
In many instances restoration of these river systems is possible through the removal of dams or the reprofiling of river banks. This would not only restore the biodiversity of the rivers but would help to alleviate flooding, improve water quality and buffer the impacts of extreme weather. In spite of this, the EPA is proposing to the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage (which has responsibility for implementing the WFD) that 466 water bodies be designated as ‘highly modified’, thereby removing the requirement for restoration measures. This is unacceptable in our view.
IWT campaign officer Pádraic Fogarty says, “there is an urgent need to restore our degraded river systems for a whole host of reasons. And yet we see the EPA and the Department of Housing trying to pull a bureaucratic stroke by reassigning rivers as ‘highly modified’. It is clear that there has been no thorough evaluation of the feasibility of river restoration and there has been no impact assessment even when these rivers are located in Special Areas of Conservation. We see around Europe that hundreds of dams are being removed and life is coming back to rivers. This is what we want in Ireland, not to be left with lifeless gutters that barely pass for natural water courses”.
Central to the restoration of rivers is the repeal of the Arterial Drainage Act, which mandates the continued dredging and draining of rivers for agricultural purposes. In July last year the IWT presented a petition with over 5,000 signatures to Minister at the Office of Public Works, Patrick O’Donovan, asking that the Arterial Drainage Act be reformed. We have yet to hear from the minister.
1 – IWT Response to consultation https://iwt.ie/wp-content/