Just two swimming spots in Ireland have been classified as having “poor” water quality in the latest annual report from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
The Bathing Water in Ireland report found the water quality of the country’s beaches and lakes continued to improve in 2021, with 97 per cent (144 of 148) of bathing sites meeting or exceeding the minimum standard.
Water quality at 115 of these sites (78 per cent) was deemed “excellent”, up from 111 in 2020.
The EPA said improvements are a result of enhanced management of bathing waters over many years, combined with investments in the treatment of urban waste water.
However, it warned issues still need to be addressed to protect and further improve bathing waters, with water quality still impacted by agriculture, urban waste water and fouling from dogs on beaches.
The two bathing spots classified as “poor”, down from four in 2020, were Balbriggan’s Front Strand Beach in Co Dublin and Lady’s Bay in Buncrana, Co Donegal.
The EPA said Balbriggan Beach is impacted by sewage discharges and misconnections; faeces from dogs, birds and other animals; and contaminated surface streams flowing through the town.
Lady’s Bay is impacted by the Buncrana waste water treatment plant, combined stormwater overflows, and surface run-off which is made worse by heavy rainfall.
Local authority management plans have been put in place to address the sources of pollution at both beaches.
The report meanwhile highlighted improvements at Lilliput, Lough Ennell in Westmeath after three years at "poor" quality, meaning a restriction on swimming has been removed.
“During 2020 and 2021, the bathing water quality improved significantly due to actions taken by farmers in the surrounding area,” the EPA said.
“This was driven by evidence and science generated by Westmeath County Council, the Local Authority Waters Programme and the Agricultural Sustainability, Support and Advisory Programme working together.”
Two new bathing waters identified in 2020 were also classified for the first time following the 2021 season, with the water quality at Carrigaholt and Quilty, both in Co Clare, deemed as “excellent”.
Another new bathing water, Aillebrack/Silverhill Beach in Co Galway, was identified in 2021 and has yet to be classified.
This is good news as we approach the summer
Dr Eimear Cotter, director of the EPA’s Office of Evidence and Assessment, said the report is positive news for swimmers as the summer approaches.
“This is good news as we approach the summer when we can enjoy our local beaches and bathing areas, which are an important natural amenity for health and wellbeing,” she said.
“The EPA recognises that swimming is increasingly becoming a year-round activity and encourages the provision of information that will help winter swimmers to make informed choices to protect their health.
“The findings and outcome of the multi-stakeholder National Bathing Water Expert Group, due later this year, will provide important information in this regard and help identify potential options to better protect bathers who swim year-round.”
The EPA advises swimmers to always check www.beaches.ie for the latest water quality information before visiting their local bathing site.