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.