The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) yesterday published its latest annual report into the quality of Ireland’s bathing water, and found that just four of the country’s 136 bathing areas were considered to be of poor standard.
The four areas are: Ballyheigue in Co Kerry; Clifden beach, Co Galway; the south beach in Rush, Co Dublin; and Fountainstown in Co Cork.
Cork county is arguably among the poorest overall performers, with eight of its bathing areas ranked as only being of “sufficient” quality, while four — including Inchydoney and Owenahincha in West Cork — are rated as “good”.
In contrast, all bar one of Co Donegal’s 19 bathing areas are rated as good, and all bar one of Co Clare’s bathing areas achieved the same ranking.
All bathing areas in Dún Laoghaire/Rathdown, Leitrim, and Sligo were rated as good.
Overall, the EPA said it was happy that 97% of the country’s 136 bathing areas met the EU mandatory standards and classed as being of sufficient water quality status, while 91 areas met the stricter EU guideline standards and are classified as being of good status.
However, in 2011, the comparable figure was 83%.
Last summer’s heavy rainfall increased the difficulty of maintaining sufficient water quality, but despite this, Laura Burke, EPA director general, said: “Irish bathing waters continue to be among the best in Northern Europe.”
She said stricter standards will take effect from next year and added: “These standards will place greater emphasis on developing systems for the management of bathing waters and on notifying the public about bathing water quality.”
The testing of water quality included tests for two microbiological parameters, E.coli and intestinal enterococci.
Rush and Clifden were the only areas to fail all three testing standards, although the EPA said in Clifden a programme of remedial works for the nearby wastewater treatment plant is planned.
It said the area in Ballyheigue failed “due to one very uncharacteristically high sample for which no cause was found”.
According to the EPA: “Weather had a major impact in the reduction of numbers of beaches achieving the guide values with many bathing areas, particularly in the South and South-west, experiencing repeated low levels of pollution related to run-off from urban areas and agricultural lands where livestock were grazing or where animal manure had been spread.
“Some beaches were also impacted by wastewater storm overflows.”
Peter Webster, EPA senior scientific officer, said: “The drop in the numbers of waters achieving ‘good’ status is disappointing but is clearly linked to weather patterns and is similar to problems experienced in other countries.”
*Full report at www.epa.ie