Group to consider year-round water tests to protect sea swimmers

Sea water currently tested during summer bathing season June-September

Swimmers at Seapoint, Co Dublin: Darragh O’Brien  says he is ‘very aware of the increased numbers of beach users outside of the bathing season, particularly in Dublin Bay’. Photograph: Laura Hutton

Swimmers at Seapoint, Co Dublin: Darragh O’Brien says he is ‘very aware of the increased numbers of beach users outside of the bathing season, particularly in Dublin Bay’. Photograph: Laura Hutton

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Protection for all-year-round sea swimmers from sewage-borne bacteria such as e.coli and enterococci is under consideration by the national Bathing Water Expert Group.

The group is examining proposals to extend the short summer bathing season, which runs from June to mid-September, due to the increasing numbers swimming all year.

Water-quality monitoring is undertaken during the bathing season, but the same system is not in operation for the other eight months of the year.

Bathing-ban notices are regularly issued for beaches in the summer months when sewage discharges or storm water overflows result in water pollution making swimming unsafe.

However, for the rest of the year swimmers are likely to be unaware if the waters are safe to enter.

Daily sea swimmer Donna Cooney, a Dublin city Green Party councillor, said she was aware of people becoming ill after swimming in the off-season.

“I regularly get reports of people getting sick after swimming, and skin infections are a frequent occurrence. Only last week someone I know became violently ill, and couldn’t put it down to any other cause. However, no one can be sure because the water quality testing isn’t happening at this time of year.”

Ms Cooney recently wrote to Minister for Local Government Darragh O’Brien seeking an extension of the bathing water season.

“If the water quality was tested, and reported by the EPA [Environmental Protection Agency] on beaches.ie, the public would be aware if it’s not safe to swim,” she said.

National appetite

Mr O’Brien said the bathing water expert group was liaising with stakeholders to “determine the appetite nationally” for an extension to the bathing water season.

Mr O’Brien acknowledged the popularity of sea swimming “has dramatically increased over the past year as people have been confined to their locality”. He said he was “very aware of the increased numbers of beach users outside of the bathing season, particularly in Dublin Bay”.

However, he said there were a number of “significant considerations” to be examined including the provision and maintenance of services by local authorities, including lifeguards at designated bathing waters; the need for Irish Water to undertake upgrade works in the off-season; and the “reality that poor weather during winter months will likely lead to more frequent bathing prohibitions”.

The costs of any extension would also need to be considered by the group, he said.