how to save water

About us


NI Water urge farmers to protect water quality when spreading slurry over the next few weeks

20 September 2023 16:22

NI Water urge farmers to protect water quality when spreading slurry | NI Water News

As we approach the slurry closed season on 15th October, it will be a busy time for farmers trying to get the slurry tanks emptied before the winter season. This year it is particularly challenging due to the poor weather conditions - on many farms cattle have been housed, slurry tanks are full and the ground is waterlogged with limited opportunities to spread slurry.

This can be very difficult for farmers to manage, but the need to protect water resources must be a priority for everyone.  NI Water is urging farmers to be vigilant and play their part in taking every possible precaution when spreading slurry, or other organic manures, to protect watercourses from potential agricultural pollution. 

If farmers are unable to empty tanks and slurry storage is limited this winter, it is more important than ever to ensure good clean and dirty water separation on farms. Separating clean and dirty water can have the following benefits:

  • Leave more space for slurry or silage effluent storage, making better use of the storage available. Cutting down dirty and contaminated areas around the farm will reduce the amount of water needed to be collected and handled, saving time and costs on pumping, storage and spreading.
  • Reduce contractor bills and/or the time spent spreading slurry. Smaller amounts of slurry and dirty water require less pumping and handling.
  • Reduce the risk of causing pollution from nutrients and bacteria washed down farm drains and into local ditches, burns and rivers or into groundwater.

Roy Taylor, NI Water Catchment Manager said: “There are many sources of dirty water around yards and farms that could reach surface water drains, sheughs, or rivers around the farm.  Livestock gathered in yards can also deposit a significant amount of manure and slurry on yard surfaces.  Rainfall running through middens, silage clamps, feeding areas and dirty yards will collect nutrients and bacteria, all adding to the problem of slurry and dirty water collection and storage, and posing a potential pollution risk from farms if not dealt with. If clean and dirty water is separated it can really make better use of the storage farmers have as well as helping to protect our water quality.

“We all know the nutrient value in slurry, but it can also be a dangerous pollutant if not managed correctly and within regulations. If slurry is spread on poor, very wet ground or during or just before wet weather conditions, it can run off the land; this results in valuable nutrients and ammonia ending up in our watercourses. This can impact the downstream Water Treatment Works, meaning they have to work harder to ensure water quality is maintained,  as well as damaging river water quality. In recent years there have also been concerns raised about levels of nutrients in our lakes and rivers. It is important that farmers follow the responsibilities under the Nitrates Action Programme Regulations to ensure that they protect water resources when spreading slurry or manures.”

Nitrates Action Programme advice to farmers is that organic manures including dirty water must not be applied within:

  • 20 m of lakes;
  • 50 m of a borehole, spring or well;
  • 250 m of a borehole used for a public water supply;
  • 15 m of exposed cavernous or karstified limestone features;
  • 10 m of a waterway other than lakes; this distance may be reduced to 3 m where slope is less than 10% towards the waterway and where organic manures are spread by band spreaders, trailing shoe, trailing hose or soil injection or where adjoining area is less than 1 hectare in size or not more than 50 m in width.

All contractors, and anyone spreading digestate, must use low emission slurry spreading equipment (LESSE), this also applies to any farms with over 200 livestock cattle units.

NOTE: Water supplied from all NI Water Treatment Works, which includes water extracted from Lough Neagh, is safe to drink and use as normal.


Notes to editors

NI Water’s number one priority is the quality and safety of your drinking water.

We can assure our customers that the water supplied from all our Water Treatment Works, which includes water abstracted from Lough Neagh, is safe to drink and use as normal.

On a daily basis, we monitor the treated drinking water at our treatment works and at customer taps to ensure that drinking water supplied meets strict quality standards.

NI Water has a robust testing and sampling system which sees over 120,000 samples lifted and analysed each year. Sampling and analysis are carried out 365 days per year. Samples are taken from customer homes, reservoirs and treatment plants.

Drinking water supplied from the water treatment works which use Lough Neagh as their raw water sources, are designed with the potential for algae to be present and robust treatment processes are in place to manage this effectively.

We increase the frequency of algae monitoring over the summer months when the risk for algae in the raw water would generally be higher.

Increased levels of algae can cause an unusual taste and smell to water from your tap but does not pose a risk to health. The taste and smell can be earthy and/or musty. Therefore, while the water from your tap can be used in the normal way, we fully appreciate some customers might notice a difference in the taste and/or odour to their drinking water at this time.

Media enquiries to the NI Water Press Office via email to

Can't find what you're looking for? Visit the Need our Help or FAQ section