More than 2,600 water pollution incidents have been recorded in Northern Ireland since 2007, leading to calls for tougher action.
Of these incidents, some 430 were deemed by the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs’ (DAERA) Environment Agency as either of ‘high’ or ‘medium’ severity.
During 2020, there were 122 pollution incidents, down from 2007’s figures of 267.
Alliance Party environment spokesman John Blair said he has repeatedly raised serious concerns on water pollution with DAERA and the replies have “revealed a theme of corporate offending”.
“It has become apparent that underfunding has meant known faults are not being addressed and infrastructure not being maintained and improved, and there continues to be pollution incidents on our vital waterways,” he added.
“It is crucial departments and their agencies work alongside the environmental sector in Northern Ireland and harness their breadth of knowledge, and act accordingly. Our rivers have been left in a dire state. My Alliance colleagues and I will continue to press on this issue, among other matters, to protect our natural environment.”
SDLP environment spokesman Patsy McGlone said: “Our rivers, lakes and oceans are some of our most important natural resources and we must do everything we can to protect them from contamination,” he said. “Water pollution could threaten our sea life and also contaminate our drinking water so it’s an issue that must be taken seriously by all. DAERA must ensure that action is taken to protect our water supply and to allow our aquatic ecosystems to thrive.
“If any person or organisation is found to be behind an incident of water pollution then full legal action must be taken against them to discourage others and to ensure out water remains clean to drink and for our wildlife to live in.”
A DAERA spokesperson said that, to prevent or minimise the impact of pollution, the Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA) co-ordinates and manages the response to reports of pollution within set time targets, depending on the severity of the incident.
“In addition to response pollution prevention awareness for industry and domestic situations is also undertaken. This involves pro-actively assisting businesses and members of the public across Northern Ireland in minimising pollution risk to waterways through a range of mechanisms such as targeted inspections and pollution prevention campaigns,” DAERA said.
“Within the agriculture sector the CAFRE Knowledge Advisory Group provide information through Business Development Groups including an Environmental Farming Business Development Group. This option provides farmers and growers with the opportunity to discuss how they can bring about environmental benefits by managing their land to enhance biodiversity, water quality and air quality.”