The quality of waters we bathe in surely matters. Swimmers, especially those with young children, need to be assured that they are not at risk of contracting disease from faecal coliforms and other unpleasant bacteria while splashing about at their favourite seaside resort. That’s why monitoring of water quality and public communication of the results are so important. And while we have been assured by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that 97 per cent of Ireland’s 135 designated bathing places comply with EU bathing water quality standards, there is no room for complacency.
From this year onwards, more stringent EU requirements could lead to the closure of bathing in places that fail to meet standards over a four-year rolling programme of monitoring. The new targets “represent a further strengthening of measures to protrect public health and amount to an almost two-fold decrease in the levels of microbiological contamination deemed to be acceptable for bathing waters,” according to the EPA. It will also be interesting to see how many of the 114 bathing places currently classified as “good” will be upgraded to a new category of “excellent” in the revised EU rankings.
Ireland’s impressive level of compliance last year was a by-product of the relatively warm and dry summer we enjoyed in 2013; had it rained a lot, more pollution would likely have occurred. Even so, the presence of “persistent but relatively low levels of bacterial pollution” was observed in some waters – in particular, some of the popular east coast bathing areas.
However, as the EPA report notes, some local authorities reduced the frequency of their water sampling in 2013. It calls on them to to aim for at least ten compliance samples per bathing place per season and says all local authorities should follow the practice of Cork and Kerry county councils in developing a warning system to forecast possible pollution from rainfall events.
That’s the least they should do.