Ireland’s beaches and lakes benefited from the scorching sunshine last summer, as record heat killed off bacteria and other harmful growths that can contaminate bathing waters.
The prolonged drought also helped, as heavy rainfall can often wash polluting material from streets and fields into the sewers and onto beaches.
There were still some incidents of pollution during the 2018 season, however. The Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) annual bathing water quality report shows 55 incidents were reported compared to 50 in 2017.
More than a quarter of them related to a problem at a wastewater treatment plant, though the bathing water samples show the impact on quality was negligible.
Other reported incidents included sewage being discharged from boats, agricultural pollution, contamination from animals and birds, growth of algae and run-off from urban areas.
Overall, 94% of the 145 bathing sites monitored around the country passed the minimum quality standards set out by EU directive and 103 of them were classified as excellent.
A further 22 were classified as good and the remaining 12 were sufficient. Five were found to be of a poor standard.
Sampling may not capture all the fluctuations, as the rules state that samples only have to be taken once a month during the official bathing season: June, July, and August, and the first two weeks in September.
However, many local authorities sample fortnightly or more frequently, and the EPA classifies water quality based on data gathered over four rolling years rather than at a single point in time.
Three of the five areas ranked poor are in Dublin: Merrion and Sandymount Strands, close to the city centre, and Portrane in the north of the county.
Clifden Beach in Co Galway and the Lilliput area of Lough Ennell in Co Westmeath are the others.
Merrion has been classified as poor for the past four years, and Portrane and Clifden for three years. If they reach five years in a row, they cannot be classified as bathing sites and ‘bathing prohibited’ warnings must be erected.
The report also gives rankings for 72 other bathing areas which are routinely monitored by local authorities, despite not falling under EU requirements.
Of those, 55 are classified as being of the highest quality, while four are below minimum standards.
Those four are Ballyvooney and Stradbally, Waterford; North Bull Wall, Dublin, and Wicklow Harbour. Andy Fanning, of the EPA’s Office of Evidence and Assessment, said it was great to see the number of bathing areas with excellent water quality, but he said those that were poor needed attention.
“More intensive action needs to be taken by local authorities to address the issues and protect the health of bathers,” he said.
Bathers and day trippers are being urged to check for water quality and any incident notifications before heading out to the water this summer. Information will be available online all summer on www.beaches.ie and @EPABeaches.
They are also being asked to help maintain water quality by taking home litter, not leaving food to decompose, or burying it in the sand (as it attracts animals and spreads bacteria), disposing of dog fouling properly, and reporting issues via the ‘See It? Say It!’ app developed by the EPA.