Irish Times view on protecting bathing water quality
Environmental Protection Agency does not expect tangible improvement before 2021
A sunny day at the seaside should be a positive experience for parents and young children. It is particularly significant in Dublin, where tens of thousands of families use public transport to access the 15 beaches surrounding the city. These outings should not be overshadowed by health threats posed by sewage-contaminated bathing water. That, however, is a developing reality. Water quality at nine Dublin beaches has shown a marked deterioration during the past four years while five of those failed basic EU safety standards.
Sewage is the primary source of this health threat. In order to save money, local authorities connected storm drains to sewage systems. Intense rain events then caused the sewage systems to overflow. This, along with run-offs from local streams, brought temporary closure notices to Sandymount and Merrion strands in Dublin last year and to Cliften in Galway. Elsewhere, direct sewage discharges at Loughshinny, Rush South and Portrane in Dublin and at Ballyloughan in Galway had the same effect.
This bathing water report from the Environment Protection Agency is based on figures from 2014-2017. And while it finds that more than 90 per cent of beaches in Ireland have ‘good or excellent’ water quality, it emphasises deterioration in urban areas. Notwithstanding sewage investment by Irish Water, the EPA does not expect a tangible improvement in water quality before 2021, while the risk of further downgrades remains. A doubling in the number of notified pollution events by local authorities in 2017 – although many did not materialise – reflected that risk.
Warning of a ‘tummy bug’ infection, if those who bathe in polluted water accidentally ingest it, deflates the threat and is misguided. E.coli and intestinal enterococci can be life-threatening bacteria. They brought serious illness to Galway and ‘boil water’ notices to many town and villages. One quarter of the population lives in the Dublin area where one-third of the beaches are unsafe and one-third are under continuing threat. Much more needs to be done.