78% of Ireland’s bathing sites have excellent water quality

Date released: May 12, 2022

  •  The quality of Ireland’s bathing water continued to improve in 2021, with 97 per cent (144 of 148) of sites meeting or exceeding the minimum standard.
  • Of these, 115 bathing sites (78 per cent) had excellent water quality (which is the most stringent standard). This increased from 111 in 2020.
  • These improvements are a result of enhanced management of bathing waters over many years, combined with investments in treatment of urban waste water.
  • The number of beaches with poor bathing water quality reduced to two, compared with four in 2020.
  • Swimmers are encouraged to ask their local authorities to officially identify additional local bathing sites. This will ensure they are managed to protect bathers’ health.

13 May 2022: The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has today published the Bathing Water in Ireland report for 2021, which shows that 78 per cent of bathing sites have excellent water quality, while 97 per cent meet the minimum standard. This is attributed to improved management of bathing waters over many years, combined with investments in treatment of urban waste water.

However, while bathing water quality has continued to improve overall, there are still issues which need to be addressed, to protect and further improve bathing waters. Agriculture, urban waste water and fouling from dogs on beaches still impact the quality of bathing waters. In addition, heavy rainfall can also quickly impact by washing pollution into our bathing waters. Swimmers should always check www.beaches.ie for the latest water quality information for their local bathing site.

Commenting on the report, Dr Eimear Cotter, Director of the EPA’s Office of Evidence and Assessment, said:

“Bathing water quality in Ireland is high and last year saw further improvements compared with 2020. This is good news as we approach the summer when we can enjoy our local beaches and bathing areas, which are an important natural amenity for health and wellbeing.

The EPA recognises that swimming is increasingly becoming a year-round activity and encourages the provision of information that will help winter swimmers to make informed choices to protect their health. The findings and outcome of the multi-stakeholder National Bathing Water Expert Group, due later this year, will provide important information in this regard and help identify potential options to better protect bathers who swim year-round.”

The EPA report specifically highlights improvements at Lilliput, Lough Ennell in Westmeath after three years at poor quality. During 2020 and 2021, the bathing water quality improved significantly due to actions taken by farmers in the surrounding area. This was driven by evidence and science generated by Westmeath County Council, the Local Authority Waters Programme and the Agricultural Sustainability, Support and Advisory Programme working together. As a result, the restriction on swimming has been removed.

The EPA encourages swimmers to engage with Local Authorities to officially identify additional local bathing sites which will ensure they are managed to protect bathers’ health.

Further information on bathing water and updates on monitoring results during the bathing water season (1st June to 15th September) are available at www.beaches.ie.

Further information: Emily Williamson, EPA Media Relations Office 053-9170770 (24 hours) or media@epa.ie

Notes to Editor

Throughout this summer, water quality information and details of any incidents affecting bathing waters will be displayed on the www.beaches.ie website.

The Bathing Waters in Ireland 2021 report, infographic and a map of the quality of Ireland’s Bathing water sites in 2021 are available on the EPA website.

In summary the key findings of the Bathing Water in Ireland report for 2021 were:

  • 97 per cent of bathing waters (144 of 148) met or exceeded the minimum required standard. This is up from 96 per cent in 2020.
  • 115 (78 per cent) bathing waters were classified as ‘Excellent’, up from 111 in 2020.
  • 2 bathing waters were classified as ‘Poor’, down from four in 2020. These are:
    • Balbriggan – Front Strand Beach, Co. Dublin which is impacted by sewage discharges and misconnections; faeces from dogs, birds and other animals and contaminated surface streams flowing through the town.
    • Lady’s Bay, Buncrana, Co. Donegal which is impacted by Buncrana waste water treatment plant, combined stormwater overflows, and surface run-off, which are made worse by heavy rainfall.

Local Authority management plans have been put in place to address the sources of pollution at these beaches.

  • Westmeath County Council and other stakeholders have collaborated to improve bathing water quality at Lilliput Lough Ennell, Co. Westmeath which was classified as ‘Poor’ for 2018, 2019 and 2020. During 2020 and 2021, the bathing water quality improved significantly due to actions taken by farmers in the surrounding catchment. The restriction on swimming has been removed.
  • Two bathing waters were identified in 2020 and were classified for the first time following the 2021 season. They were Carrigaholt and Quilty, both in Co. Clare and both ‘Excellent’.
  • One new bathing water, Aillebrack/Silverhill Beach, Co. Galway was identified in 2021.
  • 42 pollution incidents were reported to EPA during 2021. Incidents have the potential to cause a pollution risk and, when they occur, swimming restrictions are applied at the beach until sampling shows the water quality is safe.
  • Local authorities also put up 104 ‘Prior Warning’ notices at beaches in 2021, to warn swimmers that short-term pollution (lasting no more than a few days) may occur due to heavy rainfall. These warnings are removed when sampling shows the water quality is safe.

Bathing season: The designated bathing season in Ireland is from 1st June to 15th September.

Identified Bathing Waters: This is the legal term used for those beaches and lakes managed under the Bathing Water Regulations. Local authorities are responsible for identifying Bathing Waters within their area annually. The 148 identified bathing waters are either coastal or inland waters widely used by the public for bathing and are monitored, managed and assessed under the requirements of the 2008 Bathing Water Quality Regulations.

Classification: Bathing areas are classified in one of four categories namely ‘Excellent’, ‘Good’, ‘Sufficient’ or ‘Poor’. The minimum mandatory requirement is for ‘Sufficient’ quality. Any waters graded as ‘Poor’ require that management measures be put in place to identify and eliminate the sources of pollution.

Assessment: Bathing Waters are classified based on a statistical assessment of monitoring data over a four-year period.

Bathing at sites classified as having ‘Poor’ water quality: The fact that any bathing water has been classified as ‘Poor’ means that there is a risk of microbiological pollution being present, which could potentially cause illness such as skin rashes or gastric upset. Under the Bathing Water Regulations, local authorities are required to put in place notifications for the entire bathing season advising the public against bathing. This could include a bathing prohibition if a serious pollution incident occurs.

Pollution incident: A pollution incident is an incident that has the potential to cause the bathing water quality to deteriorate, for example when there is a stormwater overflow from a wastewater treatment plant, or when sampling identifies a pollution risk. A precautionary approach is taken when reporting incidents, meaning that not all incidents result in a deterioration in the bathing water quality. This approach is taken to protect bathers’ health. When a pollution incident occurs, local authorities apply a swimming restriction at the bathing water. The restriction stays in place until water sampling shows that the water quality has returned to normal.

Prior Warning: Prior Warnings (also known as ‘Short-Term Pollution’) are used in a precautionary approach to protect bathers’ health by advising the public of possible short-term pollution events which usually last for only a few days at most. These are used by many local authorities when heavy rainfall is forecast.