Under the new rules, local authorities must apply to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for a licence for waste water discharges from their sewage works.

The EPA will set strict emissions limits on pollutants that can be released into rivers, groundwater and coastal waters and the timeframe within which they should be achieved.

Failure to fulfil the conditions on the licence could result in a fine or even prosecution.

The licensing scheme aims to ensure sewage treatment complies with existing EU Directives governing drinking water quality and water treatment.

Environment minister John Gormley said: “Water is a precious resource and it just is not acceptable that our ground waters are being polluted unnecessarily.

“These new regulations will form part of an overall strategy to protect the environment and improve the quality of life.”

The introduction of the regulations coincided with the publication of an EPA report which shows some improvement in water quality in rivers and lakes, but a decline in groundwater quality.

“The report shows the very serious challenge which faces us in relation to curbing pollution of our water sources,” Mr Gormley said.

“Generally our water quality is of a decent standard but there is a small pocket of persistent polluters who need to be tackled.

“My department is continuing to take action to address the threats to water quality.”

Sewage works serving more than 10,000 people will be the first to come under the new regulations and must apply for their licences by December 14.

The regulations are among a number of measures Mr Gormley announced last month alongside a Euro 5.8billion spending package to improve water quality and infrastructure.

Kate Martin

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