Bathing Water - Background

Legislation

The legislation governing the quality of bathing waters is set out in the Bathing Water Quality Regulations 2008 (SI No. 79 of 2008) which transposed the revised EU Directive on bathing water (2006/7/EC) that came into force on 24 March 2006. The 2006 Directive gives much stronger focus on the protection of public health, a proactive approach to the management of bathing water quality and greater public participation. It establishes stricter microbiological standards for two new parameters, Intestinal enterococci and Escherichia coli. The 2006 Directive also establishes a new classification system for bathing water quality based on four classifications ‘poor’, ‘sufficient’, ‘good’ and ‘excellent’ and requires that a classification of sufficient be achieved by all bathing waters. Waters failing to meet the minimum standard of ‘sufficient’ quality will be subject to bathing restrictions during the following season.

Identified Bathing Waters

Local authorities are required on or before 24 March each year to identify bathing waters in relation to the forthcoming bathing season and to notify the EPA of these.

The local authority is required to identify a bathing water as, “all elements of surface water where the local authority expects a large number of people to bathe and where such water lies within the functional area of the authority or is immediately contiguous to the functional area of the local authority”.  The Directive does not specifically define what constitutes a ‘large numbers of bathers’ so, in general, these identified waters are the more popular areas with adequate infrastructure such as car parking, toilets, and other facilities. Many smaller waters used for bathing are also monitored on a voluntary basis.

Local authorities are required to ensure that appropriate measures have been taken in relation to public participation in the identification process.

Monitoring

The responsibility for sampling water quality (or arranging for sampling) at identified bathing waters lies with the relevant local authorities. They are required to establish a monitoring calendar for each identified bathing water and submit this to the EPA by 24 March each year. Sampling must be undertaken distributed evenly during the bathing season which extends from the 1st June until 15th September. A pre-season sample is required in late May approximately two weeks before the start of the season with a minimum of four samples to be taken during the season at the point of greatest bather density or where the greatest risk of pollution is expected in accordance with the bathing water profile.

From 2011 onwards, two new microbiological parameters, Intestinal enterococci and Escherichia coli, have been monitored. Several studies have shown these bacteria to have a significant correlation between bathing and gastro-intestinal illness.

Reporting & Enforcement

The EPA’s Office of Environmental Assessment (OEA) is responsible for compiling the bathing water information and its submission to the European Commission. The Office of Environmental Enforcement (OEE), within the EPA, follows up on the cause of any bathing area failing the minimum EU mandatory values and the measures being taken by the relevant local authority to bring the bathing water into compliance. Local authorities are required to take the necessary measures to ensure that the standards are complied with and should a bathing water sample fail to meet the EU mandatory values that the public are notified. This is generally by means of advisory notices posted at the bathing water but other media may also be used. Local Authorities are required to report the results of sampling to the EPA during, and at the end of, each bathing season.

Changes in assessment methodology

Prior to 2011 bathing water quality was assessed on an annual basis against the standards in the 1992 Quality of Bathing Waters Regulations (S.I. 155 of 1992). Between 2011- 2013 transitional measures were in place pending full implementation of the Bathing Water Quality Regulations 2008 on 31st December 2014 whereby two new microbiological parameters, Intestinal enterococci and Escherichia coli, were monitored and the results assessed for compliance with the above water quality standards. A three tier water quality status system of ‘good’, ‘sufficient’ and ‘poor’ was used whereby:

  • ‘good’ quality related to compliance with both EU guide and mandatory values;
  • ‘sufficient’ related to compliance with the mandatory values only and;
  • ‘poor’ classification reflected non-compliance with mandatory values.

From 2014 the microbiological results will be used to classify bathing waters into four categories: ‘excellent’, ‘good’, ‘sufficient’ and ‘poor’ in accordance with the water quality standards specified in the 2008 Regulations with a classification of ‘sufficient’ to be achieved by 2015 for all bathing waters. The assessment focuses on the use of a statistical approach using 4 years data rather than just that from the past bathing season.

Learn More

Read the Bathing Water Quality Report for 2014.

Download the Bathing Water Map for 2014.  It shows the location of each identified bathing water and the compliance status of each bathing water. A map of Other Monitored Waters for 2014 is also available.

Check out the EPA bathing water quality information website Beaches.ie.