The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has launched the report ‘The Quality of Bathing Water in Ireland – An Overview for the Year 2012’. The 2012 bathing water season coincided with the wettest summer for over 50 years with many areas recording 2-3 times their expected summer rainfall. Despite this, the quality of Ireland’s bathing waters remained very high, with over 97 per cent of identified bathing areas (132 of 136) meeting the EU mandatory standards and classed as being of ‘sufficient’ water quality status. Almost 67 per cent of bathing waters (91 of 136) met the stricter EU guideline standards and are classified as being of ‘good’ status.
Three local authorities achieved ‘good’ status for all of their designated bathing areas, however, these accounted for only 8 of the 136 bathing areas;
Four bathing areas failed to comply with the minimum mandatory standards and were classified as having ‘poor’ quality status.
One new bathing area was designated in 2012, bringing the total number of identified bathing areas to 136.
“The quality of Irish bathing waters remains very high despite remarkably wet summer weather in 2012. Irish bathing waters continue to be among the best in northernEurope,” comments Laura Burke, EPA Director General. “While compliance with current bathing water quality standards is high, new stricter standards will take effect from 2014. These standards will place greater emphasis on developing systems for the management of bathing waters and on notifying the public about bathing water quality. We hope that visitors to Irish beaches can enjoy their experience knowing that our waters are of a high standard and that their health and the environment are being protected.”
Fingal County Council designated one new coastal bathing area for the 2012 bathing season bringing the total of identified bathing areas to 136, comprising 127 coastal waters and nine freshwater areas. Local authorities in ten inland counties have not yet designated any bathing areas.
Peter Webster, EPA Senior Scientific Officer, says: “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. Public participation plays an important role in the identification of bathing waters and we welcome the inclusion of any additional beaches to the monitoring program. Nationally we have around 27 bathing areas per million population and about one beach per 25km of coastline. We would encourage local authorities, even in these difficult financial times, to identify further bathing areas for designation and water quality monitoring.”
Bathing water was monitored throughout the 2012 bathing season for two microbiological parameters, E.Coli and Intestinal Enterococci. The results of the analysed samples were assessed for compliance with two sets of EU standards: minimum quality standards (EU Mandatory values) and the more stringent quality targets (EU Guide values).
The key findings from this assessment were that:
* In 2012, 97.1% of bathing areas (132 of the 136 bathing areas) complied with the EU mandatory standards and were classified as achieving at least ‘sufficient’ water quality status. By comparison 98.5% (133 of 135) of bathing areas met these standards in the 2011 bathing season.
* The proportion of bathing areas that complied with the much stricter EU guideline standards was 66.9% (91of 136), indicating ‘good’ water quality status. This is lower than the previous year when 83% (112 of 135) of bathing areas met these standards.
* 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 southwest, experiencing repeated low levels of pollution related to run-off from urban areas and agricultural lands where livestock were grazing or where animal manures had been spread. Some beaches were also impacted by wastewater storm overflows. Many areas experienced 2-3 times their expected summer rainfall and June was particularly wet with severe storms causing localised flooding at times.
* Of the eighteen Local Authorities who have designated bathing areas, three achieved ‘good’ water quality status for all of their identified bathing waters. These were: Dun Laoghaire Rathdown, Sligo and Leitrim, however, these only account for 6% (8 of 136) of all bathing waters.
* Four of the 136 bathing areas (2.9%) failed to comply with the minimum mandatory standards, indicating ‘poor’ bathing water quality status. These were Clifden Beach (Galway), Fountainstown (Cork), Rush (Fingal, Co.Dublin) and Ballyheigue (Kerry).
* In the case of Clifden, a program of remedial works for the nearby wastewater treatment plant is planned and is expected to bring about significant improvements in water quality ahead of the 2015 bathing season. Fountainstown and Rush failed to meet the required percentage of samples complying with the mandatory EU standards while Ballyheigue failed due to one very uncharacteristically high sample for which no cause was found.
Throughout the 2013 bathing season, up-to-date bathing water quality information and notifications of any incidents affecting bathing waters will be displayed on the Splash website at www.bathingwater.ie. The site also gives information on the compliance history of each bathing area, details of blue flag status, bathing safety, weather and tidal information, along with aerial photography.