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, overall our water quality in Ireland is getting worse.

Just over half of Ireland’s surface waters are in good condition. There is a relatively small decline in water quality of our rivers and lakes. The number of estuaries and coastal water bodies in satisfactory condition has also decreased. 

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.

Read more about the EPA’s assessments of water quality and agriculture.

When nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus enter our waterways they cause an increase in the growth of plants and algae. This in turn clogs up our water courses, uses up oxygen and harms other aquatic life such as insects and fish. 

Nitrates and phosphorous

Nitrate concentrations remain too high in rivers, groundwater, and estuaries in the south east, south west and midlands & eastern regions. Nationally, although there have been year on year fluctuations, average nitrate concentrations have increased since 2012/2013 in all waterbody types.

A quarter of all rivers have phosphorus concentrations which are greater than the good water quality standard. Nutrient losses from agriculture are one of the significant drivers impacting on our water quality.

Read further information on the results of water quality monitoring in 2022, as used to support the assessment of the impact of the nitrate’s derogation on Irish waters.

Find previous water quality assessments of the impact of the nitrate’s derogation on Irish waters, ND Derogation Report 2021 and Nitrogen and Phosphorus Concentrations in Irish Waters (2020).

Read the most recent Article 10 report on implementation of the Nitrates Directive in Ireland. You can also read historic reports, Article 10 report for Ireland 2012-2015 and Article 10 Report for Ireland 2008-2011.

Recent analysis by the EPA indicates the nitrogen reductions needed to meet water quality objectives in river catchments to the south, southeast 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 aquatic plants, and this is impacting the aquatic ecosystem health of our estuaries and coastal waters.

The evidence shows that the goal of restoring all waters to good status by 2027 will not be achieved. Our water quality is going in the wrong direction and any improvements we are seeing are being cancelled out by declines occurring elsewhere.

Full implementation of Ireland’s River Basin Management Plan, including targeted action at the 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
Water Quality in Ireland 2023 Indicators report lrg feature item
Water Quality in 2023

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 2023.

The cover of the report 'Bathing Water Quality in Ireland 2023'
Bathing Water Quality in Ireland 2023

The 2023 EPA Bathing Water report sets out bathing water quality at Ireland's beaches during the summer 2023 bathing water season.

Water Quality Report 2016-2021 Cover
Water Quality in Ireland 2016 – 2021

This report sets out the assessment of the health of Ireland’s rivers, lakes, canals, groundwaters, transitional (estuaries) and coastal waters. The analysis is based on the assessment of over 4,000 surface water bodies and 514 groundwater bodies over the period 2016-2021.

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

  • Where can I find information on water quality for my local river or lake? shares science and stories about water quality in Ireland. This includes water quality data for all waterbodies in Ireland, the EPA Water Map and 46 catchment assessments.

    You can also use the EPA's My Local Environment Map to show you what is near you by entering your Eircode.


  • I want to help look after my local river or lake. What should I do?

    The Local Authority Waters Progamme has Community Water Officers all around the country who work with local people to build awareness, help build group capacity, support training and citizen science initiatives and strengthen links between public bodies, funders and communities who are looking after their rivers, lakes and other waters.

    You can find contact details for your local Community Water Officer on the LA Waters Programme website.

  • 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 the EPA directly as well as the Local Authority.  

    This link has the full details about how to Make an Environmental Complaint

    Fish kills: To report fish kills, members of the public are encouraged to call Inland Fisheries Ireland’s confidential hotline number on 0818 34 74 24, which is open 24 hours a day.

    Forest Fire: If you need to report a forest fire please dial 999 and ask for Fire Services. You will be put through to one of the national call centres who will record the necessary details.


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

    Before you visit the beach this summer with your family or friends, check out or our Twitter feed @EPABeaches


    Before going to the beach you can check to see the latest bathing water quality (excellent, good, sufficient or poor) and find out if there are any current warnings or advice against swimming notices.

    • At the beach or lake – lifeguards will fly the red flags when bathing waters are considered unsafe for bathing. You can check out the notice boards to see the latest water quality and if any warnings or advice against bathing notices have been posted by the local authorities.

    • The 48-hour rule after heavy rain – swimming after heavy rainfall carries an added risk of pollution from surface runoff and is best avoided for 48 hours. Further information can be found on

     @EPABeaches – You can follow the @EPABeaches Twitter account and receive tweets of news and information on bathing waters and tweets of when bathing water incidents start and are over.

  • 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.

Infographics and factsheets on freshwater & marine

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