Swimming ban at Dublin's Merrion strand due to poor water quality

City beach is first to face such a prohibition, as EPA rates it as ‘poor’ for fifth year in a row

Merrion strand: the beach is the first in Ireland to face a permanent bathing ban.

Merrion strand: the beach is the first in Ireland to face a permanent bathing ban.

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Swimming is to be banned at Merrion strand in Dublin Bay because of persistent problems with bathing water quality – it is the first Irish beach to have such a permanent prohibition.

The move follows publication of the EPA Bathing Water in Ireland report for 2019, which confirms the beach was classified as “poor” for the fifth year in a row under EU standards.

Dublin City Council indicated in January if it failed to meet the minimum standards for a fifth consecutive year, a “permanent prohibition” on bathing will be put in place.

Overall, however, bathing water quality improved across the country in 2019.

The main findings were:

– 95 per cent of bathing waters (140 of 147) met or exceeded the minimum required standard, up from 94 per cent in 2018;

– 107 (73 per cent) were classified as “excellent”, up from 103;

– 24 (16 per cent) were classified as “good”, up from 22;

– Nine (6 per cent) were classified as “sufficient”, down from 12.

EPA director Dr Micheál Lehane said: “Declassification of Merrion Strand after five years at poor status is disappointing and action must be taken to ensure no other bathing water is declassified in future.”

Portrane (the Brook) beach in Co Dublin; Ballyloughane and Clifden beaches in Co Galway and Lilliput at Lough Ennell, Co Westmeath, were also deemed poor. The Brook beach and Ballyloughane risk being declassified next year as they have failed to meet minimum standards for the fourth year in a row.

The main difficulty at Merrion strand is the impact from two polluted streams which flow on to the beach; the Elm Park and Trimleston streams.

They are polluted due to misconnections where domestic plumbing goes into the wrong pipe and goes directly into the stream; leaks, spills and overflows from wastewater collection systems and run-off from roads. Other potential pollution sources include urban wastewater discharges, birds and dogs.

A new task force set up by Dublin City Council is focusing on improving bathing water quality at Merrion strand and Sandymount strand.

Dublin City Council is also working with Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council and Irish Water to address pollution sources related to the wastewater network including misconnections, combined sewer overflows and pumping station overflows.

Pollution incidents

Dublin City Council is investigating the possibility of creating wetlands to improve water quality in the Elm Park stream, while a €9.2 million research project called Acclimatize aims to identify the main sources of pollution in the Dublin Bay area.

Ongoing difficulties at the nearby Ringsend wastewater treatment works, which is operating at overcapacity and not in compliance with EU environmental regulations, are dealt with under the EPA urban wastewater treatment report. If problems there are cause for concern at Merrion strand, precautionary advice is issued to the public, confirmed EPA programme manager Mary Gurrie.

Pollution incidents reported to the EPA decreased from 55 in 2018 to 50. Fifteen of these were related to problems at wastewater treatment plants but “do not appear to have caused a deterioration in bathing water quality”.

“More improvements in operation, management and maintenance of plants and networks are still needed,” the report warns.

Three bathing waters, all in Dublin, were classified for the first time: the Forty Foot, Sandycove (classified as “excellent”), White Rock Beach in Killiney (“excellent”) and Sandycove Beach (“good”). Inchydoney East Beach in Co Cork and Cúas Crom, Co Kerry, will be classified later this year.

“Ireland has many beautiful beaches. Enjoying these natural amenities can be good for our physical and mental wellbeing, and it is therefore essential that Ireland maintains good bathing water quality,” Ms Gurrie added.

Throughout the summer water quality information and details of any incidents affecting bathing waters are displayed at www.beaches.ieThe bathing water report is available on the EPA’s website.