Updated Oct 19, 2022

EPA report says water quality continues to decline

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has published the Water Quality in Ireland Report 2016-2021, which provides the latest assessment of the quality of Ireland's rivers, lakes, estuaries, coastal and groundwaters.

The report shows that water quality in Ireland is not as good as it should be. Only just over half of rivers, lakes, estuaries and coastal waters are in satisfactory condition. The overall ecological health of these surface waters has declined across all water body types since the last assessment (2013-2018). This means these water bodies are less able to support healthy ecosystems for fish, insects and plants.

While the decline in water quality of Ireland's rivers and lakes is relatively small, the number of estuaries and coastal water bodies in satisfactory condition has decreased by almost 16% and 10% respectively. These declines are mostly along the southeast and southern coasts where nitrogen emissions from agricultural activities are having a significant negative impact on water quality. Excess nitrogen causes algal blooms in estuaries which can damage the ecosystem, and excess nitrogen in drinking water can pose a risk to human health.

Summary of key points

Some key points of the report include:

  • water quality in Ireland has further declined. While improvements are being made in some areas, these are being offset by declines in water quality elsewhere;
  • at the current level of progress, Ireland will fail to meet the EU and national goal of restoring all waters to good or better status by 2027;
  • just over half of rivers, lakes, estuaries and coastal waters are in satisfactory condition;
  • the deterioration in estuaries and coastal waters is mostly along the southeast and southern seaboards and is due to agricultural run-off. Urgent and targeted action is required to reduce nitrogen emissions from agriculture in these areas.

Comments by the EPA

Commenting on the report, Dr Eimear Cotter, Director of the EPA's Office of Evidence and Assessment, said:

"The scale of the declines in our estuaries and coastal waters is alarming. In recent years the EPA highlighted that nutrient levels in our rivers and groundwaters are too high and that trends were going in the wrong direction. We are now seeing the impact of these emissions on our estuaries and coastal waters. Areas such as Cork Harbour, Wexford Harbour and the Slaney, Suir and Nore estuaries have lost their good water quality status. This directly impacts the marine biodiversity and ecological value in these areas".

Mary Gurrie, Programme Manager, added:

"Improvements in water quality are being made, particularly in the priority areas for action where there has been focused action to restore water quality in the past three years. This shows that improvements to water quality can be made when actions are targeted. However, the gains made are being wiped out by declines in water quality elsewhere."

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