Freshwater and Marine

The EPA works with others to monitor and assess the health of our rivers, lakes, estuaries and coastal waters under the Water Framework Directive.

What can you do about water quality?

Water quality in Ireland

What do you need to know about water quality?

What's happening with water quality?

Fresh, clean water is vital for all life on earth. Ireland has some of the best water quality and cleanest beaches in Europe. Ireland’s climate means that there is usually enough water to meet the needs of its people and the surrounding environment. 

However, water quality In Ireland is getting worse. Just over half of Ireland’s surface waters are in good condition

Over one third of rivers, and a quarter of lakes are failing to meet their environmental quality standards for nutrients. Over one fifth of our groundwater, estuarine and coastal water bodies have high nitrogen concentrations. Just over half of rivers and lakes are in high or good biological quality.

The main threat to water quality is the presence of too much nutrients, such as phosphorus and nitrogen, which come primarily from agriculture and waste water. Nutrient concentrations in waters are too high and the trends are going in the wrong direction.

Nitrate concentrations are now increasing in nearly half of our river and groundwater sites. Phosphate levels are increasing in a quarter of river sites. Concentrations of nitrate are highest in the south and south east of the country where the main source is agriculture. Further information on the results of water quality monitoring in 2020, as used to support the assessment of the impact of the nitrate’s derogation on Irish waters can be found here.

Recent analysis by the EPA indicate the nitrogen reductions needed to meet water quality objectives in river catchments to the south, south east and east of the country. Currently the nitrogen loads being delivered to the sea from the upstream river catchments are too high and are causing increased growth of algae and aquatics plants, and this is impacting the aquatic ecosystem health of our estuaries and coastal waters.

The rivers surveyed in 2019 have shown more improvements than declines overall, which is welcome, however further action is needed to return waters to a satisfactory condition.

Full implementation of Ireland’s River Basin Management Plan, inclduing targeted action at local water catchment level, is key to improving water quality.


What's being done?

The Water Framework Directive

Our rivers, lakes, estuaries, coastal and groundwaters are assessed under the EU Water Framework Directive (WFD). This EU law came into effect in December 2000. Having a single European framework to assess water quality allows us to compare our results across Europe.  

Our surface waters are classified into five quality classes (status) under the WFD: High, Good, Moderate, Poor and Bad.

‘High’ is when the water is unpolluted, and ‘Bad’ is when the water is highly polluted.  Our ground waters fall into two quality classes (status) under the WFD: 'Good and ‘Poor 

The WFD allows us to see where actions are needed to achieve Good status or to protect Good or High status where it already exists. It also helps us identify what actions need to be taken. We can restore rivers to Good and High status by using targeted actions and measures to reduce the impact of human activities.  

The River Basin Management Plan

The River Basin Management Plan outlines Ireland's policy repsonse to the challenge of protecting and restoring water quality. The plan is published on a 6-year cycle by the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage. It includes targeted actions and measures to protect and restore water quality.

Learn about the River Basin Management Plan 2018-2021

Featured reports on Freshwater & Marine

in: Freshwater & Marine
Photo of Caragh River
Water Quality in 2020

An Indicators Report

This report provides an update on the quality of water in Ireland's rivers, lakes, transitional and coastal waters and groundwater using information collected in 2020.

Bathing Water Quality in Ireland 2020 cover
Bathing Water Quality in Ireland 2020

The 2020 EPA Bathing Water report sets out bathing water quality at Ireland's beaches during the summer 2020 bathing water season.

Cover from Water Quality In Ireland 2019
Water Quality in 2019

an indicators report

This report provides an update on the quality of water in Ireland’s rivers, lakes, transitional and coastal waters and groundwater using information collected in 2019.

Ireland's National Water Framework Directive Monitoring Programme, 2019-2021 cover
Ireland's National Water Framework Directive Monitoring Programme, 2019-2021

This document presents Ireland’s national WFD monitoring programme for surface and groundwater bodies.

FAQs about freshwater & marine

in: Freshwater and Marine

The EPA works with others to monitor and assess the health of our rivers, lakes, estuaries and coastal waters under the Water Framework Directive.

FAQs on freshwater & marine

  • Microplastics - do they have an impact on water quality?

    Microplastics are a newly identified contaminant in water sources, including drinking water sources, across the world. Microplastics are very tiny (<5 mm) pieces of plastic which can come from a variety of different materials.

    As microplastics are an emerging water quality issue, the impact of them on people’s health has not yet been fully assessed and determined.  There is currently no water quality standard for microplastics in the Drinking Water Regulations. However, the EPA is keeping a close eye on European and Irish research in this area, and there may be a standard set in the future.

  • To whom do I report pollution such as: fish kill; forest fire; oil spillage?

    Pollution incidents should be reported in the first instance to the local authority in whose area the incident occurred as they can respond rapidly. The Local Authority will contact the Environmental Protection Agency if an EPA licensed activity is concerned.  If you know it is an EPA licensed activity you should contact us directly as well as the Local Authority.  Use the following link to obtain full details about how to Make an Environmental Complaint

  • Can the EPA stop farmers discharging pollution into rivers?

    This is primarily a matter for the relevant Local Authority, under the Water Pollution Act 1977. If, however, the Local Authority is not fulfilling its function, a complaint can be made to the EPA who will take up the matter with the relevant Local Authority to ensure pollution is not taking place.

  • Where can I find information on water quality at my local beach?

    Before you visit the beach this summer with your family or friends, check External or our Twitter feed @EPABeaches, for information on current water quality and details of any incidents affecting bathing waters. When you get to the beach always check the local notice board to ensure the water quality is good before getting into the water for a swim.

Infographics and factsheets on freshwater & marine

Learn more about water quality in Ireland - watch talks from the 2021 EPA Water Conference