2. Catchment Community Fora

Open19 Jun, 2023, 9:00am - 31 Dec, 2023, 5:00pm

2.1 Draft RBMP and Consultation Proposals

The dRBMP has proposed 5 Principal Actions in relation to public participation:

  • Evaluate the outcome of the Resilience Project for Rivers Trusts to inform future community engagement initiatives (LAWPRO)
  • Examine ways in which further support can be provided for the formation and capacity building of local fora to help identify and implement measures (LAWPRO)
  • Increase the level of funding under the Community Water Development Fund (DHLGH)
  • Explore opportunities for the development of a national citizen science programme (DHLGH)
  • An Fóram Uisce to identify the optimum level of engagement with the implementation structures for the WFD as part of their strategic planning process.

An additional relevant action, under Structural/Societal Measures - Implementation/Governance is:

  • Ensure further activation, development, and support of local level initiatives (rivers trusts, catchment partnerships)

Public consultation on the dRBMP took place between 27th September 2021 and 31st March 2022. The DHLGH consultation report1 summarises feedback on the question What are your views on the measures included to improve the level of public participation during the third plan?2 as follows:

Public Participation measures proposed in the plan are inadequate. WFD implementation must be made transparent and participative including making it clear where water management decisions are being made. The Public must be involved from the start. A comprehensive programme for public engagement in RBMP needs to be developed to get the public to actively engage. Capacity building and increased funding are vital in order to achieve this.

Key stakeholders such as shellfish businesses should be included in the decision-making process of any plan/project/licence application from the very beginning and no plan/project that has the potential to add extra pressure to the already deteriorating waterbody should not be allowed. Cumulative impacts must at all times be assessed.

Recommendations within Submissions:

  1. WFD implementation must be made transparent and participative and must be brought into compliance with the Aarhus Convention.
  2. The public must be involved from the start in the development of action plans to ensure effectiveness, equity and inclusiveness.
  3. The Department of Housing must publish a comprehensive programme for public engagement in the RBMP process.
  4. Suggest that an online portal be established to allow local stakeholders to make submissions to regulators in relation to abuses of waterbodies witnessed and breaches of legislation.
  5. A key recommendation would be to tie in water quality to Biodiversity in the plan, as this is more tangible to the public and more evocative.
  6. Also recommended that a standardised simple water quality sign or ‘badge’ for each bridge in our towns to raise awareness of quality and what is acceptable for the plan. Similar to blue flag system for beaches.
Figure 1 Third Cycle Draft River Basin Management Plan 2022-2027 - Consultation Report (page 14)


In addition, An Fóram Uisce in their submission3 on dRBMP (Figure 2), have called for:

  • A new national approach, which includes a vision and action plan for meaningful community engagement.
  • Pilots to test various approaches to improve public engagement on a phased basis. A framework to support development of public dialogues, community action planning and project co-creation – LAs, state agencies.
  • Structures and resources to be put in place to develop plans that are prioritised by the participatory process.
  • Consistent ongoing and informed discussion at local level that co-creates solutions and actions. 
Key Recommendations - Public Participation

1. The overall level of meaningful public and stakeholder engagement in the
implementation of the WFD needs to radically improve. A new national approach to public participation needs to be developed that includes a vision and action plan for public engagement in the 46 catchment areas that encompasses the principles and recommendations set out in the Water Forum Briefing Note on public participation.

2. A phased approach be taken in a number of pilot catchments to test various approaches to improving public engagement, contributing to the development of a new national approach. The Forum would welcome future engagement with the Department, Local Authorities and LAWPRO in the design and implementation of these pilots. These pilots should take place very early in the 3rd cycle so that more effective and more meaningful public engagement processes are in place for the remainder of the 3rd cycle.

3. A framework will have to be developed to support the development and implementation of public participation dialogues, community action planning and project co-creation within and between Local Authority areas and within and between state agencies with responsibilities for water, climate and biodiversity.

4. Structures and resources (personnel, training and funding) need to be put in place to develop and deliver specific, measurable, actionable, reasonable and timebound actions plans that are prioritised by the public participatory process to deliver positive environmental outcomes for nature, water, climate and community resilience.

5. There needs to be consistent, ongoing and informed discussion at local level that facilitates the co-creation of solutions and action (agency, community and individual) to protect our natural resources and build truly resilient communities across Ireland.
Figure 2 Extract from An Fóram Uisce’s submission – Key Recommendations: Public Participation


LAWPRO through its public consultation on the dRBMP found that communities want to be engaged with and want to understand what is happening in their local waterbody and catchment.  They are interested in acting, where possible, to improve water quality locally.  They also want to be reassured that the State is carrying out its statutory functions and taking responsibility for water quality restoration and protection. Catchment and Community groups are interested in working collaboratively with state partners to deliver positive outcomes for the environment.

2.2 The Proposed Role of the Catchment Community Fora

The dRBMP includes an action for LAWPRO to examine ways in which further support can be provided for the formation and capacity building of local fora to help identify and implement measures.

Action 35: Examine ways in which further support can be provided for the formation and capacity building of local forums to help identify and implement measures.

Discussion is essential with community representatives as well as with other stakeholders to get a clear understanding of the possible role of the local forum, from now on termed Catchment Community Fora and how they could be established over time in each of the 46 catchments. To examine these aspects and related matters, a two phased process is proposed.

  • Phase 1 (2023): Phase 1 will allow for synergies with existing structures and proposed new ones such as the PPNs, Biodiversity and Climate fora, to be examined in detail so that there is no duplication of effort.  It will harness the experience, views, and differences in the community landscape in five catchments across Ireland.  Phase I will also involve the coordination of a series of workshops to examine the proposed membership of the Catchment Community Forum, its role, and objectives, how it will operate and what funding supports will be needed. The workshops will be held in 5 pilot catchments in 2023 and provide recommendations for the development of a framework for the rollout of out of fora in the pilot catchments in 2024.  It is not intended to formally establish fora in the 5 pilot catchments in 2023. 
  • Phase 2 (end 2023 – early 2024): Establish a committee to design a framework for the establishment in 2024 of a Community Forum in each of the 5 pilot hydrometric catchments based on Stakeholder feedback from the workshops and any other relevant reports

As part of Phase 1 LAWPRO has met with several stakeholders: An Fóram Uisce, The Rivers Trust, Catchment Associations, and also proposes to meet with Leader Development Companies, the Public Participation Network (PPN), Tidy Towns and others interested in the establishment of the Fora.  A workshop session Looking ahead: Community involvement in Catchment Management Plans was held at the LAWPRO/Rivers Trust Communities Caring for Water Conference in November 2022, and views collated from the conference workshop, and from subsequent submissions made by community groups are being compiled into a workshop report to inform the pilots.

Learnings from other jurisdictions such as the UK and the 2nd Cycle Local Management Area action plans (Northern Ireland Environment Agency) will also be considered.  Interlinkages with the local authority sector’s CARO’s officers, biodiversity and heritage officers will also be examined.

2.3 Phase 1: Scoping exercise to develop a Framework to establish Catchment Community Fora (CCF) in five pilot catchments

For the scoping exercise for the delivery of the Catchment Community Fora, LAWPRO has developed guiding principles as follows:

  • A forum is defined as ‘A forum is defined as: A structured public gathering for the purpose of informed and open discussion.' (A forum can be held either online or in-person. 
  • These guiding principles will be used by LAWPRO to inform a Terms of Reference (TOR) for the CCF as part of the pilot phase. The ToR will be discussed and debated as part of the pilot process with a view to their evolution throughout the pilot phase. The purpose of the ToR is to give clarity of purpose for the Phase 1 work and to manage expectations in terms of what the workshops hope to achieve, and how the deliberations will be facilitated.
  • Phase 1 will consider the existing community structures and examine synergies with other national plans such as the 4th Biodiversity Action Plan and LA Climate Action Plans.
  • LAWPRO will coordinate the workshops with support from an expert facilitator. A model for the facilitation of the Fora will be discussed and recommendations made as part of the pilot phase, including resources and budgets required.
  • A framework for capacity building will also be explored which will look to integrate with and look to incorporate water quality elements into other existing and proposed education and awareness initiatives.
  • LAWPRO together with the EPA will collate and present catchment characterisation and catchment science evidence from local catchment assessment where available, specific to the pilot catchments. This information will be combined with local knowledge and evidence from communities.
  • Scoping exercise and the pilots will examine the role the CCF can have in influencing the evolution of Catchment Management Plans at a local level.
  • Co-ordination and interaction with the Implementing bodies and the preparation of the CMP is proposed to be through the Regional Management Committees.
  • LAWPRO will work with An Fóram Uisce’s Working Group on public participation. Proposals for the relationship between AFU and the CCF will be worked through in the pilot phase.
  • Phase 1 in 2023 will be a scoping exercise to get communities involved in the Fora with a view to providing recommendations for consideration in the framework for the future establishment of the CCF in the 5 pilot catchments in 2024.
  • LAWPROs Communities Team will continue to assist in bringing communities together, support the development of projects (co-development of project) and delivery on the ground with groups with a particular focus within the pilot catchments.  They will continue to support the setting up of Catchment Associations, River Trusts, and catchment partnerships.

Figure 2 shows a possible approach and timeline for increasing community participation in the development of the CMP and ultimately the next RBMP.

Figure 3 Increasing community participation in River Basin Planning

2.4 Aims and Objectives for the Catchment Community Fora

Phase 1 scoping exercise will seek to make recommendations on:

  • Forum Membership - to ensure broad and diverse community representation in the membership of each Catchment Community Fora.
  • Terms of Reference (ToR) e.g. core ToR to be consistent across all 46 Fora, with flexibility for additional items specific to individual catchments.
  • Interaction with An Fóram Uisce, WFD Tier 3 Governance Structures (Regional committees), implementing bodies, including local authorities.
  • Engagements with cross border public bodies such as DAERA, Loughs Agency etc.
  • Role of or supports from LAWPRO in respect of the CCF.
  • Role of or supports from Catchment Management Associations/ Catchment Partnerships/ River Trusts/Community Groups.
  • Different delivery mechanisms for the Catchment Community Fora.
  • Determine the relationship between the proposed catchment level fora and existing local government, community development and public participation structures such as Public Participation Networks, Local Community Development Committees, etc.
  • The frequency, format, facilitation, and hosting of fora meetings.
  • Funding supports/model - Examine synergies with other funding mechanisms (DRCD/LEADER) to leverage additional funding.
  • Coordination of relevant projects that aim to protect or improve water quality and facilitate collaboration between communities and implementing bodies through the development of pilot Community Action Plans.
  • How the work of the fora can influence the template for the preparation of Catchment Management Plans.
  • The framework for the rollout of community fora after the pilot stage.

The Objectives may include (but are not limited to):

  • Information sharing
    • Catchment science
    • Catchment Management Plans
    • Local knowledge
  • Capacity building
    • Citizen Science
    • Climate, Biodiversity and Water Training
    • Other course delivery e.g., project planning, biosecurity, riparian management, river restoration, alien invasive species, etc.
    • Water literacy
    • Community stewardship of local waterbodies and catchment
  • Actions and Outcomes for Water
    • Catchment Vision
    • Community Action Plan
    • Development and co-development of projects
    • Identify and maximise potential for multiple benefits
    • Guiding principles/prioritisation
  • Inform and Influence Policy
    • Maximise linkages with other relevant plans, programmes, and strategies, e.g. Biodiversity Action plan.
    • Catchment Management Plans

2.5 Delivery of Phase 1

LAWPRO will coordinate the delivery of Phase 1 and to start the process, a workshops have been proposed to be delivered in each of the pilot catchment areas as follows.  The workshops will be linked to the areas listed in section 2.4 to provide recommendations at the end of the process.

Workshop 1: Introduction to the Catchment Community Fora & RBMP 2022 - 2027.

  • Need for this fora – the why,
  • Explore the membership & representation (sectoral plus geographical),
  • Number of members,
  • Role of the fora,
  • Interaction with other structures and fora e.g., Climate, Biodiversity, Heritage etc., and
  • Fora objectives.

A report on the workshops’ findings and recommendations for establishing Catchment Community Fora beyond the pilot phase will be prepared by LAWPRO.  It is envisaged that the LAWPRO will present the findings and recommendations of Phase 1 to Regional Committees and An Fóram Uisce. The timeline for the delivery of the workshops is dependent on the date of publication of the River Basin Management Plan.

Phase 2 will provide for the establishment of a committee to evaluate the stakeholder feedback, research outcomes and Phase 1 recommendations. The committee will put forward a framework for the roll out of the CCF across the 46 catchments commencing in 2024 in 5 pilot catchments, subject to adequate resources being put in place.

A roadmap for the operational delivery of Phase 1 is to be developed by LAWPRO considering the feedback from stakeholder meetings and the Communities Caring for Water Conference: Public Participation in a Changing Environment workshop findings and the feedback on the Discussion Document.