97% of Irish bathing waters meet EU standards

Date released: May 01 2014

  • Ireland’s bathing waters continue to be of a very high standard, with 97 per cent of designated bathing areas meeting the minimum EU qualifying standard.
  • The EPA currently monitors 135 locations nominated by local authorities – these are the most popular bathing waters. The EPA would like to see more locations in the programme.
  • 84.4 per cent of bathing waters (114 of 135) were classified as being of ‘good’ status - compared to just 67 per cent (91 of 136) in 2012.  This reflects both the unusually wet summer in 2012 and the good summer in 2013.
  • Just 4 bathing waters (1 inland and 3 coastal) failed to comply with the minimum mandatory standards and were classified as being of ‘poor’ quality status.  
  • From 2014 new stricter EU standards will come into force and there will be a new category of ‘excellent’ water quality.  EPA projections suggest that under the new standards approximately 90 per cent of identified bathing sites are likely to be classified as either ‘excellent’ or ’good’. 

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) today launched the report The Quality of Bathing Water in Ireland – An Overview for the Year 2013.

Commenting on the bathing water quality results, Dr Matthew Crowe, Director of the EPA’s Office of Environmental Assessment, said,

“Irish bathing waters continue to be among the best in northern Europe.  By contrast to the 2012 bathing season, the warm dry conditions last year meant that many waters returned to their normal good quality.   Our projections show that almost 90 per cent of Ireland’s designated bathing waters should meet the new ‘excellent’ or ‘good’ water quality standards which will come into force from this year.”  

Peter Webster, EPA Senior Scientific Officer said:

“Ireland has many lovely beaches and while monitoring them all would be costly the EPA would like to see an increase in the numbers of designated bathing areas; currently 135 are designated.  However, a further 32 bathing areas are being monitored by local authorities for community based eco-tourism schemes. These are of a very high standard, and could be formally proposed for inclusion in the national programme.”

2013 Report Findings

Bathing water was monitored throughout the 2013 bathing season for two microbiological parameters, E.Coli and Intestinal Enterococci.  The results of the analysed samples were assessed for compliance with EU standards:  the minimum quality standard (EU Mandatory values) and the more stringent quality standard (EU Guide values).

The key findings from this assessment were that:

  • In 2013, 97% of bathing areas (131 of the 135 bathing areas) complied with the EU mandatory standards and were classified as achieving at least ‘sufficient’ water quality status – similar to the 2012 bathing season.
  • The proportion of bathing areas that complied with the much stricter EU guideline standards indicating ‘good’ water quality status was up at 84.4% (114 of 135) compared to just 66.9% (91of 136) in 2012.
  • Of the eighteen Local Authorities who have designated bathing areas, six achieved ‘good’ water quality status for all of their identified bathing waters. These were: Dun Laoghaire Rathdown, Meath, Clare, Kerry, Donegal, and Louth.  These account for 38.5% (52 of 135) of all bathing waters.
  • Four of the 135 bathing waters (3%) failed to comply with the minimum mandatory standards, indicating ‘poor’ bathing water quality status.  These were Clifden Beach (Galway), Lilliput (Lough Ennell, Co. Westmeath), Dugort (Achill, Co. Mayo) and Ballyloughane (Galway City).
  • In the case of Clifden, a program of remedial works for the nearby wastewater treatment plant has commenced but is unlikely to bring about significant improvements in water quality ahead of the 2016 bathing season. Lilliput encountered a lengthy period of contamination late on in the season which is believed to have originated from a waste water source. Dugort was affected by a rare pumping station malfunction, while at Ballyloughane two pollution events were recorded. These were both linked to heavy rainfall and on one occasion the mandatory standard for E.Coli was exceeded automatically causing the water to be classified as poor.

Throughout the 2014 bathing season, up-to-date bathing water quality information and notifications of any incidents affecting bathing waters will be displayed on the Splash website at splash.epa.ie. The site also gives information on the compliance history of each bathing area, details of blue flag status, bathing safety, weather and tidal information, along with aerial photography. 

The summary report The Quality of Bathing Water in Ireland – An Overview for the Year 2013 and map of the quality of Ireland’s bathing water sites, are now available.

Note to Editors:

EU Mandatory Standards: These are the current minimum standards that the water quality at bathing areas must achieve over the bathing season.

EU Guide values: These are stricter guideline standards that bathing areas should endeavour to achieve over the bathing season.

Since 2011 assessment has focussed on analyses of Escherichia Coli (E.Coli) and Intestinal Enterococci. Prior to 2011 assessment was undertaken on the basis of Total and Faecal Coliforms and a range of physico-chemical parameters.

Bathing season: The bathing season in Ireland, is designated as being from 1st June to 15Th September.

Bathing areas currently classified as follows:

  • Compliant with guide and mandatory values achieves good water quality status.
  • Compliant with mandatory values only achieves sufficient water quality status.
  • Non-compliant with mandatory values results in poor water quality status.

From 2014 bathing water compliance will be undertaken using a statistical assessment of bathing water results covering a four year period as opposed to the current annual assessments based on percentage compliance. The new standards will be approximately twice as strict as current standards. A new category of ‘excellent’ quality will be introduced. Provisional assessments using data from 2009 – 2013 show that almost three quarters of Irish bathing areas are likely to meet the excellent standard.