Water, Water Everywhere! But, so is the Waste.

At Zero Waste Alliance Ireland (ZWAI) we hate to waste any resource, whether it’s food, money, water and particularly any waste of opportunities. We’re delighted in this instance to see that An Fóram Uisce share the same concerns as we do as regards the waste of our precious water resources and the destruction of nutrients by washing them away with the wastewater releases. We are calling for a recovery of nutrients from our wastewaters and the reapplication of those to fertilize our soil and enrich our growing media.

In a recent submission that the Forum submitted to THE DEPARTMENT FOR PUBLIC EXPENDITURE AND REFORM (DEPR) on the Review of the National Development (submitted on 26th January 2021) they called for an end to water leakage and a plan to recover valuable nutrients from our wastewater.

In the light of a global looming Phosphorus shortages , we should not allow this substance to be simply flushed away.

Nutrient pollution from sewage making its way into ground water and surface waters not only harms our fresh water supply and impacts fresh water ecosystems, it is also wasting a valuable resource.

With the inevitability of future resource restrictions and to ensure or food security, big changes will have to happen for domestic and municipal wastewater treatment systems.

Ollan Herr, Herr Reedbeds

Nitrogen and Phosphorus are key resources that mankind needs to manage better from now on. They are freely available for recycling from human excrement.

The submission drew attention to the lack of infrastructure to service our water needs, and also to our waste of valuable nutrients being washed away into our reservoirs and into our wastewater treatment systems without recovery.

Wasted water – past and present.

In 1872, Cork City was losing nearly 1/4 of 1,000,000 gallons of water per day to leaks in their infrastructure. The daily consumption of the city at that stage was 3,000,000 gallons, so they were losing about 8% of the total of the water in their system. However, by 2019 the average daily amount of water lost through the Irish water pipe network was 188,000,000 gallons per day. That’s a staggering 42% of the daily national consumption in Ireland. Is this progress?

The Environmental Protection Agency says that:

It will take 60 years to replace all the lead pipe connections in the current patchwork of piping systems we have nationally.

Is the will there? The facts reveal a reluctance.

Priority issue.

Looking at the top eight Government capital expenditure spending areas from 2005-2019, we see that water services lies in sixth place out of eight for the proportion of total capital expenditure allocated. Expenditure on water services reduced from a high of €512 million in 2009 to €19 million in 2017. Overall, for the period 2005-2019, water services represented 6% of the total capital expenditure. This compares to 20% for roads, 15% for housing, 10% for schools and PPP and 8% for public transport. We must reverse this.

Significant increased investment in Ireland’s water services infrastructure is urgently required to meet EU Directives and legislation. We simply must do better to stop wasting water within our infrastructure.

Nutrient losses.

We also need to address need to recover the nutrients that we are flushing down our toilets on a daily basis. Both aspects require infrastructural improvements and time is not on our side. The Fóram’s comments on nutrient recovery are particularly tuned with our overall drive to create a circular economy.

Their submission states;

An Fóram Uisce would welcome further consideration of the circular economy within the NDP. With a particular focus on investment in water services infrastructure, An Fóram Uisce would like to see greater investment in facilities to improve nutrient recovery process from municipal wastewater treatment plants. This would assist in protecting and restoring Ireland’s aquatic environments which are deteriorating in quality primarily because of excessive nutrients entering waters from wastewater treatment and agriculture. As a first step, consideration should be given to prioritising nutrient recovery within catchments which have been identified as being at risk of failing to meet EU Water Framework Directive targets due to pressures associated with Wastewater Treatment Plants (WWTPs). In addition, investments should also focus on removing pharmaceuticals from wastewaters reducing ecological and public health risks. Investigations should be undertaken into the safe application on to land of nutrients recovered from wastewater. Application should only be made on to suitable and appropriate land/soil types which minimises or negates potential risks to human health, animal health and environmental health.

The full submission (5 pages) can be read here.

We could not agree more