Bathing water: what lurks beneath?
Persistent problems due to human and agricultural activity
There is much to provide reassurance in the latest annual Bathing Water Quality in Ireland report from the Environmental Protection Agency. It confirms 75 per cent of 140 locations are of “excellent” standard and 93 per cent meet minimum EU standards. It is fair to conclude we have some of the best beaches and inland swimming locations in northern Europe from a water quality point of view.
But beneath the surface, there are persistent problems due to human and agricultural activity and heightened risks due to continuing discharge of raw or partially-treated sewage in the vicinity of bathing locations.
Such problems are especially evident in Dublin and Galway where six bathing areas were classified as “poor” and there is on-going risk of pollution and a threat to public health. Most of the problems are sewage related.
The vulnerability of our waters is more fully reflected in the findings of the EPA’s Urban Wastewater Report 2015 which highlighted that raw sewage is being discharged into 43 areas and delivery of suitable treatment facilities is delayed by an average of almost two years. There has been little improvement in addressing this infrastructural deficit since - the consequence of, which is likely to result in substantial EU fines, due to infringement proceedings that date dating back to 2005.
The Green Party is correct to highlight the “worryingly slow” provision of urgently-needed infrastructure. In the meantime the likely EU fine is growing, and incidents that threaten public health, the environment and tourism become more probable.