John Gormley, minister for the environment, heritage and local government, published the Water Services Investment Programme, which includes more than 950 individual infrastructure schemes, on Tuesday.

The investment will be coupled with a series of other measures to improve water conservation, prosecute polluters, enhance protection of waterways and protect water supplies from diseases such as E.coli.

The spending represents a Euro 4.7billion increase on levels set out in the National Development Plan, a blueprint for the country’s growth from 2007-2013.

Mr Gormley said: “Ensuring there is clean water, not only in our taps, but also in our rivers, lakes and estuaries, is a priority for me in Government. Water is possibly our most precious resource.”

He added: “Our aim is to bring about a situation whereby all of our public drinking water supplies comply with European standards, and that all of our lakes and rivers are of good water quality.

“This is a considerable challenge – one which I believe can, and must, be achieved.”

Mr Gormley announced that new measures will be introduced to enforce standards and improve water quality.

This will include regulations which will establish licences for large waste water treatment plants.

Councils operating these facilities could face fines or even prosecution if they fail to meet licensing standards.

The Irish Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is also drawing up new environmental standards for rivers and lakes, and new River Basin Management Plans are set to come into force next year setting targets for improving water quality by 2016.

Kate Martin

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