Research Article: Water matters: An assessment of opinion on water management and community engagement in the Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom

Date Published: April 3, 2017

Publisher: Public Library of Science

Author(s): Alec Rolston, Eleanor Jennings, Suzanne Linnane, Steven Arthur Loiselle.


Internationally, water management is moving from the traditional top-down approach to more integrated initiatives focussing on community-led action. With inadequacies in previous engagement initiatives undertaken through the first cycle of River Basin Management Planning for the EU Water Framework Directive (WFD), the Republic of Ireland has only recently embraced this bottom-up approach. The attempted introduction of national charging for domestic water use in 2015 has resulted in significant public disquiet and protest movements against the national government. In April 2015 we undertook a survey of current opinion on water management and community engagement initiatives in the Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom. A total of 520 survey responses identified that although freshwater bodies are important in peoples’ lives, respondents were typically unaware of global initiatives such as Integrated Water Resources Management and Integrated Catchment Management. Overall, 81% of respondents did not feel included in decisions about their water environment despite an overwhelming 95% believing that local communities should have a say in how the water environment is managed. However, only 35.1% of respondents stated that they would be willing to attend local water management engagement initiatives. Rather than supporting individual gain, respondents identified social gains for the local community as avenues for increasing local involvement in water initiatives. In the Republic of Ireland, a water engagement initiative that implements the national framework local delivery model should be developed and implemented. This would 1) contribute to the second round of WFD River Basin Management Planning; 2) facilitate stronger connections between local communities and their water environment; and 3) foster bottom-up initiatives that empower communities regarding local water management issues.

Partial Text

Water is essential for all life and is important for health, spiritual needs, comfort, livelihood and the world’s ecosystems [1], yet the values given to the services provided by such aquatic ecosystems can vary between individuals [2]. Climate change, population growth, intensified agricultural production and increased abstractions are some of the pressures acting on the availability of water on a changing planet [3]. Within the water sector, institutional fragmentation can result in antagonistic management actions that fail to achieve overarching goals and that often overlook the importance of maintaining healthy freshwater ecosystems [4]. An integrated approach is therefore required in water management between different sectors to achieve future action on water and sustainable development [5]: Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM) is one approach identified to achieve such cohesion [6]. In essence, IWRM is designed to replace the traditional fragmented methods to water management with a more holistic approach that recognises the multi-faceted social, economic and environmental importance of water and society [7].

A survey of 37 questions was designed and launched through the website to ascertain opinion on water management and community engagement in the Republic of Ireland and the constituent countries of the United Kingdom (England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland) (S1 File). Prior to being launched, the survey methodology and questions were reviewed by the TIMe Project’s EPA Steering Committee to address any ethical issues. The Dundalk Institute of Technology Research Ethics Committee was also consulted and the Committee confirmed that this type of study is normally exempt from formal review following a pre-screening assessment process. Internet Protocol (IP) addresses of respondents were not collected to ensure respondent anonymity. Contact details of researchers, the reason for conducting the survey, and the uses to be made of the data were clearly stated in the introductory page of the survey. Respondents were not required to respond to every question and it was possible to exit the survey at any point. The survey questions were divided into three components: Demography; Water and the Environment; and Water Management and Community Engagement. Because of the lower number of responses from the UK compared to the Republic of Ireland (N = 105 and N = 411 respectively: note that four respondents did not identify a geographical location), and in order to compare between geographic locations where applicable, data for all of the UK regions were combined and compared against data from the Republic of Ireland.

The global prominence of water resource management has increased over the past 20 years, and IWRM and ICM initiatives in particular have promoted public participation and community engagement. Yet few studies have investigated opinions on water management and community engagement, despite evidence for perceptions of the water environment amongst the general public (in the United Kingdom) being sparse even a decade ago [34]. Here, we undertook a survey which aimed to assess opinion on water management and community engagement in the Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom.

There are seemingly few differences in opinion between survey respondents from the Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom, despite the different timeframes of implementation of IWRM and ICM principles within the geographic localities. Although there was a much smaller response rate from the UK compared to the Republic of Ireland (perhaps reflecting the high level of interest in water currently in the Republic of Ireland as well as the method of promotion of the survey being more targeted towards Irish audiences), the survey results do allow a certain comparison of current opinion between the geographic localities.




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