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EPA Says Bathing Water Quality "High Overall" in 2023 But Five Beaches Recorded Poor Results

17th May 2024
The popular Sandycove beach near Dun Laoghaire on Dublin Bay. Bathing water quality monitoring at Sandycove and other beaches around the coast takes place during the bathing water season (June 1st to  September 15th) according to the Environmental Protection Agency
The popular Sandycove beach near Dun Laoghaire on Dublin Bay. Bathing water quality monitoring at Sandycove and other beaches round the coast takes place during the bathing water season (June 1st to September 15th) according to the Environmental Protection Agency

Bathing water quality around the Irish coast was high overall last year, with 97 per cent of monitored sites meeting or exceeding the minimum standard, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says.

The EPA says that some 114 bathing sites (77 per cent) had excellent water quality, down from 117 in 2022.

The number of beaches with poor bathing water quality increased to five, compared with three in 2022.

The five bathing water sites were classified as ‘poor’, up from three in 2022, are:

Balbriggan – Front Strand beach, Co Dublin which is impacted by sewage discharges and misconnections; faeces from dogs, birds and other animals and contaminated surface streams flowing through the town.

Loughshinny beach, Co Dublin, which is impacted by sewage discharges, misconnections from domestic plumbing systems, septic tanks, faeces from dogs, horses and birds, and contaminated streams which flow into the bathing water.

Sandymount Strand, Co Dublin, which is impacted by pollution from contaminated streams, misconnections, sewage discharges and faeces from dogs and birds.

Lady’s Bay, Buncrana, Co Donegal which is impacted by Buncrana wastewater treatment plant, combined stormwater overflows, and surface run-off, which are made worse by heavy rainfall.

Trá na mBan, An Spidéal, Co Galway which is impacted by the Spiddal sewer network, run-off from agriculture, and discharges from septic tanks.

Wet weather in July and August 2023 “put pressure on our beaches resulting in more beach closures to protect public health”, the EPA says. It notes these “rainfall events” highlight the need to build climate resilience into the effective management of bathing waters.

Bathing water quality can be impacted by heavy rainfall, resulting in waste water overflows and in runoff from agricultural lands and urban areas which can cause short-term deterioration in water quality, it says.

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

“Run-off 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,”the EPA says.

Dr Eimear Cotter, EPA director for the office of evidence and assessment, said that “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,”she says.

“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 says.

Local authority management plans have been put in place to address the sources of pollution at the five poor quality beaches.

One bathing water, Aillebrack/Silverhill beach, Co Galway was classified for the first time with “excellent quality”.

It says that 45 pollution incidents were reported to the EPA during 2023, in comparison to 34 in 2022.

Incidents have the potential to cause a pollution risk and, when they occur, swimming restrictions are applied at the beach until sampling shows the water quality is safe.

It says that local authorities also put up 228 ‘Prior Warning’ notices at beaches in 2023, to warn swimmers that short-term pollution (lasting no more than a few days) may occur due to heavy rainfall.

This was an increase of 42 from 2022. These warnings are removed when sampling shows the water quality is safe.

Further information on bathing water quality and updates on monitoring results during the bathing water season (June 1st to September 15th) is available at

The EPA says that swimmers should always check and the signage at the beach for the latest water quality information for their local bathing site.

The report Bathing Water Quality in Ireland 2023 is now available on the EPA website.

Lorna Siggins

About The Author

Lorna Siggins

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Lorna Siggins is a print and radio reporter, and a former Irish Times western correspondent. She is the author of Search and Rescue: True stories of Irish Air-Sea Rescues and the Loss of R116 (2022); Everest Callling (1994) on the first Irish Everest expedition; Mayday! Mayday! (2004); and Once Upon a Time in the West: the Corrib gas controversy (2010). She is also co-producer with Sarah Blake of the Doc on One "Miracle in Galway Bay" which recently won a Celtic Media Award

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