Water quality at the majority of Ireland’s bathing zones was of a high standard in 2023, with 77% of bathing sites having excellent water quality, a new report from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has found.

Ninety-seven per cent of bathing waters meet the minimum standard, the report showed.

“Bathing water quality can be impacted by heavy rainfall. This results in waste water overflows and in runoff from agricultural lands and urban areas which can cause short-term deterioration in water quality.

“In 2023, urban waste water-related incidents were the most frequently reported cause of beach closures,” the EPA stated.

Runoff from agriculture, fouling from dogs left on the beach, wastewater from properties going to surface water drains rather than sewer (known as misconnections) and algal blooms also impacted on bathing waters, it added.

Record rain

Record rainfall levels in July and storms in August led to more beach closures in 2023 than in previous years.

The EPA said that the rainfall events in 2023 highlighted the need to build climate resilience into the effective management of bathing waters.

Director of the EPA office of evidence and assessment Dr Eimear Cotter said while our bathing water quality is generally very good overall, there is a need to build climate resilience into the management of bathing waters to reduce the risk of pollution following heavy rainfall.

“This needs action by all sectors including Uisce Éireann, local authorities and agriculture to reduce overflows from urban waste water systems, and runoff from urban areas and agricultural land.

“While beach closures play an important role in protecting bathers’ health, local authorities need to improve their understanding of the pressures which can impact beaches in the context of changing rainfall patterns,” she said.

Poor beaches

The number of beaches classified as poor increased from three to five in 2023.

These are Balbriggan front strand beach, Lady’s Bay (Buncrana), Trá na mBan (An Spidéal), which were also poor in 2022, and Loughshinny and Sandymount beaches in Dublin.

The EPA said that the relevant local authorities and Uisce Éireann have plans in place to improve water quality at these beaches.

“These must be fully implemented to make these beaches safe for swimming,” the report added.