Bathing water quality continues to improve but pollution incidents affect some beaches

 

The EPA has published the Bathing Water in Ireland report for 2020, which sets out the quality of bathing water at our beaches. 

Overall, bathing water quality improved across the country in 2020. However, the report highlights that water quality can change quickly in the short-term, especially during rainfall events, which can wash pollution into our bathing waters. Swimmers should always check www.beaches.ie for the most up-to-date water quality information for their local bathing site.

Commenting on the report, EPA Director Dr Eimear Cotter said: “The continued improvement in bathing water quality is welcome. It is also positive to see two new beaches being identified in 2020, and to see improvements at two beaches that had poor water quality previously.

"Good quality bathing waters are important now more than ever, as more people enjoy our natural amenities, and particularly swimming. With many people now swimming outside the bathing season, the EPA is calling for additional water quality monitoring at beaches where there are large numbers of year-round swimmers, and that this information is made available to the public.”

The water quality at some beaches can be impacted when pollution, from wastewater and agriculture, gets washed in following heavy rainfall. Swimmers are encouraged to check www.beaches.ie for the most up-to-date water quality information.  =Local authorities and Irish Water must continue to address sources of water pollution which impact some of our beaches to ensure that public health is protected.

In summary, the key findings of the Bathing Water in Ireland report for 2020 were:

  • 96 per cent of bathing waters (142 of 148) met or exceeded the minimum required standard. This is up from 95 per cent in 2019.
  • 111 (75 per cent) bathing waters were classified as ‘Excellent’, up from 107 in 2019
  • 4 bathing waters were classified as ‘Poor’, down from 5 in 2019. Local Authority management plans have been put in place to address the sources of pollution. The bathing waters classified as ‘Poor’ were:
    • Clifden Beach, Co. Galway
    • Lilliput - Lough Ennell, Co. Westmeath
    • Cúas Crom, Co. Kerry
    • Balbriggan - Front Strand Beach, Co. Dublin
  • Clifden Beach has been classified as ‘Poor’ for five years in a row and must now be declassified as a bathing water for 2021.
  • Galway Co. Co. and Fingal Co. Co. have taken actions to improve bathing water quality at two bathing waters that were Poor in 2019:
    • Ballyloughane Beach, Co. Galway improved from ‘Poor’ to ‘Sufficient’
    • Portrane (the Brook) Beach, Co. Dublin improved from ‘Poor’ to ‘Good’
  • Two new bathing waters were identified in 2020 and will be classified for the first time following the 2021 season. They were Carrigaholt and Quilty, both in Co. Clare:
  • 57 pollution incidents were reported to EPA during 2020. Incidents have the potential to cause a pollution risk and when they occur, swimming restrictions are applied at the beach until sampling shows the water quality is safe.
  • The most common cause of pollution incidents in 2020 was discharges from urban wastewater systems. Irish Water needs to make improvements in the operation and management of urban wastewater treatment plants and networks where these impact on bathing waters.
  • Local authorities also put up 135 ‘Prior Warning’ notices at beaches in 2020, to warn swimmers that short-term pollution (lasting no more than a few days) may occur due to heavy rainfall. These warnings are removed when sampling shows the water quality is safe.

Throughout this summer, water quality information and details of any incidents affecting bathing waters will be displayed on the www.beaches.ie website. The EPA reminds anyone using or swimming at beaches this year to follow the public health advice hse.ie/coronavirus/ and any local information in relation to the COVID 19 pandemic. 

The Bathing Waters in Ireland 2020 report, infographic and a map of the quality of Ireland’s Bathing water sites in 2020 are available on the EPA website.

Further information on bathing water and updates on monitoring results during the bathing water season (1st June to 15th September) is available at www.beaches.ie

Notes:
Bathing season: The designated bathing season in Ireland is from 1st June to 15th September.

Identified Bathing Waters: This is the legal term used for those beaches and lakes managed under the Bathing Water Regulations. Local authorities are responsible for identifying Bathing Waters within their area annually. The 148 identified bathing waters are either coastal or inland waters widely used by the public for bathing and are monitored, managed and assessed under the requirements of the 2008 Bathing Water Quality Regulations.

Classification: Bathing areas are classified in one of four categories namely ‘Excellent’, ‘Good’, ‘Sufficient’ or ‘Poor’. The minimum mandatory requirement is for ‘Sufficient’ quality. Any waters graded as ‘Poor’ require that management measures be put in place to identify and eliminate the sources of pollution.

Assessment: Bathing Waters are classified based on a statistical assessment of monitoring data over a four-year period.

Bathing at sites classified as having ‘Poor’ water quality: The fact that any bathing water has been classified as ‘Poor’ means that there is a risk of microbiological pollution being presen,t which could potentially cause illness such as skin rashes or gastric upset. Under the Bathing Water Regulations, local authorities are required to put in place notifications for the entire bathing season advising the public against bathing. This could include a bathing prohibition if a serious pollution incident occurs.

Pollution incident: A pollution incident is an incident that has the potential to cause the bathing water quality to deteriorate - for example, when there is a stormwater overflow from a wastewater treatment plant, or when sampling identifies a pollution risk. A precautionary approach is taken when reporting incidents, meaning that not all incidents result in a deterioration in the bathing water quality. This approach is taken to protect bathers’ health. When a pollution incident occurs, local authorities apply a swimming restriction at the bathing water. The restriction stays in place until water sampling shows that the water quality has returned to normal.

Prior Warning: Prior Warnings (also known as ‘Short-Term Pollution’) are used in a precautionary approach to protect bathers’ health by advising the public of possible short-term pollution events which usually last for only a few days at most. These are used by many local authorities when heavy rainfall is forecast.