Ireland buys time on phosphate pollution issue

The Irish Government has been granted a few weeks' grace in implementing key European guidelines designed to protect the water supply from agricultural pollution.

It will now try to balance the concerns of farmers against the very real need to reduce the amount of wash-off from fertilisers reaching the nation’s water courses.

This comes in a week when the UK’s newly-formed think tank Forum for Water said that diffuse pollution from agriculture was the biggest single threat to the country’s water resource (see related story).

Ireland’s own Environmental Protection Agency recognises the seriousness of agricultural water pollution, reporting that 20% of groundwater has nitrate concentrations above EU drinking water guide levels, 27% of its rivers are affected by eutrophication and that there is widespread bacteriological contamination of groundwaters and drinking water supplies by livestock manure.

Environment Minister Dick Roche told the press he has agreed to a short deferral of Part 3 of the European Communities Good Agricultural Practice for the Protection of Waters Regulations 2005.

This is to allow the country breathing space to set new limits on phosphate release.

“Both myself and the Minister for Agriculture and Food, Mary Coughlan, have made it clear that if revised phosphate tables are brought forward and supported by robust underlying science, then the government is prepared to make a case to the European Commission for revising the current limits,” he said.

The existing limits are based on scientific evidence provided by Teagasc, the government body responsible for administering the regulations.

“Teagasc has indicated that it wishes to review this advice,” said Roche.

“The government and the European Commission see merit in allowing new advice to be elaborated.

“Equally, we are clear that any new formulation will have to respect the environmental requirements associated with the Nitrates Directive.”

The minister has attempted to reassure farmers who fear they will be hard-hit by the new regulations.

“The work of both departments in finalising the Regulations, as advised by Teagasc and in close consultation with the farming organisations, means that the for the vast majority of farmers the Regulations will not in fact cause any undue concern,” he said.

“In reviewing the phosphates issue, it is important that we do not undermine what has already been achieved, or undermine Ireland’s case for a derogation on the nitrogen limit which is of utmost importance to Irish dairy farmers.

“The Commission, in discussions which I have had with them, has indicated that it will be not be possible to complete work on the derogation until such time as any amendments are agreed.”

“In all of this we must not forget why we are implementing these regulations on Good Agricultural Practice for the Protection of Waters.

By Sam Bond

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