Greater focus on protecting our most pristine waters is needed, says EPA

Date released: Jun 20 2018

Greater focus on protecting our most pristine waters is needed, says EPA

The new Water Indicators’ Report for Ireland reveals:

  • a slight increase in pristine river sites, up to 23 from the 21 sites reported in the last EPA Water Quality in Ireland Report.  This increase, however, comes against a backdrop of a 10-fold decline in the number of these high quality sites from over 500 in the 1980s;  
  • continued eradication of serious pollution -  five seriously polluted river water bodies in 2014–2016 compared to 91 water bodies in the late 1980s; 
  • an additional 1% of river water bodies (23 water bodies) falling below good status, as compared with the results in the last Water Quality in Ireland Report.  This result indicates an increasing challenge in meeting the objectives of the recently published River Basin Management Plan;  
  • the maintenance of a long-term downward trend in the number of fish kills; 
  • the presence of faecal contamination in over 40% of national groundwater monitoring sites.  This result highlights the need for homeowners to check and if necessary treat their well water before consumption;
  • the continuing presence of nutrient pollution in a quarter of our rivers and lakes and a third of our estuaries and coastal waters.

20 June 2018:  The EPA has today released a new water indicators’ report for Ireland.  The 16 indicators in the report provide information on the quality of Ireland’s rivers, lakes, estuaries, beaches and groundwaters.  These indicators will help identify the right actions for the protection and improvement of water quality in Ireland and will help track progress with the implementation of the recent National River Basin Management Plan 2018-2021.

The indicators present the current state and trends in water quality for each water category.  The report supplements the information provided in the EPA’s triennial Water Quality in Ireland reports.  

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

“We all have a connection to water, be it our local beach, river, lake or the well that supplies our family and our animals with drinking water.  Making sure that these waters are clean and well protected is critically important to our health and our wellbeing. Water also supports many important economic activities such as agriculture, manufacturing and tourism.  These indicators help us track progress in protecting and improving this vital national asset.”

Addressing the main findings of the assessment, Andy Fanning, Programme Manager, EPA Office of Evidence and Assessment said,

“Pollution caused by excess nutrients entering waters remains a key challenge.  These nutrients come predominantly from our farms, towns and villages. The commitments and actions identified in the recent National River Basin Management Plan 2018-2021 must now be implemented to halt deterioration of water quality and to make the necessary improvements where needed.  This will require collaboration across a wide range of stakeholders. By doing this, the right action can be taken in the right place by the right people and organisations to improve and enhance our waters for all.”

Dr Shane O’Boyle, Senior Scientist, EPA Office of Evidence and Assessment said:

“The indicators’ report highlights the need for more focus on the protection of our highest quality waters.  The EPA welcomes the commitment in the National River Basin Management Plan 2018-2021 to establish a local authority led ‘Blue Dot’ Catchments programme to focus efforts and resources on these important waters.  The EPA will work with local authorities and other stakeholders to help identify the local pressures impacting on these high status waters and to formulate solutions.”

The report is available on the EPA website and the accompanying data are available on Local information on water quality is available on-line through the EPA website and

Further information: Niamh Hatchell/Emily Williamson, EPA Media Relations Office 053-9170770 (24 hours) or

Notes to Editor

Water Indicator Reports: This is the first water indicators’ report published by the EPA in 10 years.  It is intended to publish this report annually.  It will complement and support the EPA’s Water Quality in Ireland reports, produced every three years.  All reports are available on the EPA website.

Main causes of pollution: The assessment shows that elevated levels of nutrients (phosphorus and nitrogen) in waters continues to be the most widespread water quality problem in Ireland. Nutrient losses from agriculture and wastewater discharges, together with physical habitat issues, are the primary reasons why the water quality objectives of the Water Framework Directive are not being met.  In relation to agriculture, the pressures relate to diffuse nutrient run-off, sediment from land and point sources associated with farmyards. For wastewater, the main pressure is from urban wastewater discharges and diffuse urban discharges (which include misconnections leading to sewage effluent being discharged to surface water drainage systems).

For further information see the Executive Summary or the water quality assessments on

National River Basin Management Plan: Further information about the National River Basin Management Plan is available on the Department of Housing, Planning, Communities and Local Government website. A collaborative EPA, Local Authority Waters and Communities Office and Department of Housing, Planning, Communities and Local Government website that is used to share information and resources on water in Ireland. It includes water quality assessments undertaken by the EPA for the Water Framework Directive.

Water Framework Directive: The Water Framework Directive (WFD) is the primary Directive that sets out water quality objectives and common metrics for assessing and reporting on the quality of freshwater in Europe. These assessments are undertaken on a six-yearly cycle, with the outcomes reported by each country in their respective River Basin Management Plans.

Significant pressures: Activities, such as wastewater discharges, industrial discharges or agriculture, that are identified as being significant contributors to surface water or groundwater bodies failing to meet their WFD objectives.

“Bad” category: The WFD category that indicates the worst surface water quality, which are regarded as being seriously polluted.

“Pristine” waters: The best quality waters are assigned a high status WFD category, and a portion of these high status water bodies are defined as being pristine. Sometimes they are also referred to as “Q5” sites (achieving an ecological quality score of 5/5) or reference condition sites, and they are regarded as being largely un-impacted by human activities.

‘Blue Dot’ Catchments Programme: The EPA assigns the colour blue to river waters at high quality in water quality maps.  The aim of the ‘Blue Dot’ programme is to protect and restore high ecological status to a network of river and lake catchments.   The programme is a key action under the National River Basin Management Plan 2017-2021.