Swimming spots are cleanest in 12 years as just two fall short
THE country's most popular bathing spots are cleaner now than they have been in 12 years, with a new report saying that water quality in just two out of 135 areas surveyed has failed to meet basic standards.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) yesterday said that 98.5pc of all bathing areas across the State now comply with EU quality standards, the highest number since 2000.
Water quality is marked in three categories: poor, sufficient and good.
Just two areas were classified as 'poor' -- Clifden Beach in Co Galway, which is expected to improve because a nearby sewage treatment plant is being upgraded -- and White Strand in Miltown Malbay in Clare, which failed because of one poor sample.
All beaches in five local authority areas -- Dun Laoghaire/Rathdown, Louth, Mayo, Meath and Wicklow -- achieved 'good' status.
But there has been an overall drop in the number of areas achieving the gold-plated 'good' status, most likely because of heavy rainfall which washes effluent into the sea and lakes.
The EPA warned that higher standards would come into force from 2014, meaning that further investment in sewage treatment plants was necessary.
"The quality of bathing waters in Ireland remains high and shows a sustained improvement in the numbers of bathing areas achieving 'sufficient' status over the last few years," EPA director general Laura Burke said.
"There has been a drop in the numbers of areas achieving 'good' status this year, although five local authorities achieved 'good' status.
"While compliance with current bathing water quality standards is high, stricter standards will take effect from 2014 and these will require greater vigilance to ensure our bathing waters continue to be among the best in Europe."
Quality was assessed by testing water samples taken in 135 identified bathing waters, of which nine are freshwater lakes, between June 1 and September 15 every year. Five new beaches were added to the list last year -- two in Galway city, two in Sligo and one in Mayo -- while one, Silver Strand at Louisburgh in Mayo, was removed from the list.
The EPA said that variations in quality could have been influenced by the weather. The largest number of samples failing to meet the standards occurred in early September when heavy rain hit the country.
Environment Minister Phil Hogan said that while overall quality was high, local authorities had to make extra efforts to improve water quality and tackle sources of pollution, especially as there had been a drop in the numbers achieving the higher standard.
Swimmers can find more information at www.bathingwater.ie.