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96% of bathing areas meet cleanliness standards – EPA

96% of bathing areas meet cleanliness standards – EPA

Bathing water quality improved in 2020 compared to the previous year with 96% of bathing areas meeting or exceeding the minimum standard for cleanliness, according to the latest annual report from the Environmental Protection Agency.

The EPA has called on Irish Water to make “improvements” in urban wastewater systems in an attempt to cut down on incidents of pollution.  It also wants increased monitoring at busy beaches, outside of the traditional season of 1 June to 15 September, given the amount of people now swimming at all times of the year.

Of 148 designated beaches, mostly on the coast but also at some inland lakes, 142 were found to have water quality which was at least at the minimum standard in 2020. Meanwhile, 111 areas were classified as excellent, up from 107 the previous year. There were four beaches classified as having “poor” water quality: Cúas Crom in Co Kerry, the Front Strand at Balbriggan in Dublin; Lilliput at Lough Ennell in Co Westmeath, and Clifden in Co Galway. The latter loses its status as a designated bathing spot, having been declassified for having poor quality water for five years in a row.  However, the beaches at Ballyloughane in Galway and Portrane in Dublin improved from “poor” in 2019 to “sufficient” and “good”, respectively, last year.  Some beaches can experience a downturn in water quality when pollution from wastewater or agriculture gets washed in during heavy rain.  New bathing waters at Carrigaholt and Quilty, both in Co Clare, identified in 2020, will be included in next year’s report.

EPA director Dr Eimear Cotter welcomed the “continued improvement” in bathing water quality.  “Good quality bathing waters are important, now more than ever, as more people enjoy our national amenities, and particularly swimming,” she said  “With many people now swimming outside the bathing season, the EPA is calling for additional water quality monitoring at beaches where there are large numbers of year-round swimmers, and that this information is made available to the public.”

EPA Programme Manager Mary Gurrie said the minimum requirement for testing is once a month. and there should be improved information on bathing waters for swimmers throughout the year.  Speaking on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland, she said that additional monitoring and advice would reassure swimmers.

Water quality can decline for a number of reasons, such as heavy rainfall, and at these times local authorities put up advisory notices, she explained.  Ms Gurrie said that Clifden beach has been of poor quality for five years and now must be declassified, which in effect says it is permanently closed for bathing – unless the situation improves.  She said the problem is the result of waste water.

Key Findings

  • 148 identified bathing waters in 2020. This number has increased steadily from 135 in 2011.
  • 96% of bathing waters met or exceeded the minimum required standard.
  • 89% of bathing waters were classified as Excellent or Good.
  • Four bathing waters were classified as Poor: Clifden Beach, Lilliput (Lough Ennell), Balbriggan (Front Strand Beach) and
    Cúas Crom.
  • Clifden Beach was classified as Poor for the last five years, 2016 to 2020, meaning it will be closed or ‘declassified’ as a
    bathing water in 2021.
  • Urban wastewater is the most common source of pollution affecting bathing water.
  • 111 (75%) of bathing waters were classified as Excellent, one of which was newly classified in 2020
  • 21 (14%) were classified as Good
  • 10 (7%) were classified as Sufficient
  • 4 (3%) were classified as Poor
  • 2 (1%) bathing waters, Carrigaholt and Quilty (both in Clare), were new in 2020 and will be classified following the 2021 bathing season.

Action Needed

  • Local authorities must prioritise measures to improve the Poor bathing waters to at least Sufficient.
  • Local authorities should prioritise measures to increase the number of bathing waters at Good or Excellent.
  • Irish Water need improvements in the operation, management and maintenance of plants and networks which impact on bathing waters.
  • We can all help by bringing our rubbish home, cleaning up after our dogs, and reporting pollution.

Source – RTE

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