Dangerous E.coli found in 40pc of water sites
More than 40pc of groundwater sources that provide drinking water for two million people are contaminated with the dangerous bug E.coli, found in human and animal faeces.
A report from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) warns that water quality has deteriorated between 2015 and 2017, and unless pollution from agriculture and wastewater treatment systems is addressed, there will be further declines.
The 'Water Quality in 2017' indicators report highlights that we are losing high-quality river sites, and that more pollution is entering the sea from our rivers.
"Clean, healthy water is essential to our health and well-being," Dr Matt Crowe from the EPA said.
"The signals in this report are not good and tell us that water quality is still getting worse in some areas despite improvements in others.
"This is simply unacceptable. We must do more to halt deterioration in water quality so that we protect this most precious public resource."
The report highlights how tackling sources of pollution is leading to improvements. Fish kills are at an all-time low with 14 reported last year, compared with 31 in 2016.
But there are multiple pressures on quality, including agricultural run-off, sediment from land and sources associated with farmyards. Wastewater treatment plants and diffuse sources, including misconnections in the sewer network where effluent is discharged to surface water drainage systems, are also a major issue.
Failure to tackle these sources is putting human health at risk.
"A high proportion of groundwater sites (43pc) are still contaminated with the bacterium E.coli, indicating the presence of faecal contamination," the report said.
"This highlights the need for groundwater source protection and associated management and for regular testing of drinking water supplies from groundwater."
In 2016, the figure stood at 42pc, highlighting a deterioration in just a year.
On rivers, the EPA said 197 river bodies have improved in quality, but 269 have declined compared with the previous assessment completed between 2013 and 2015. While 56pc of rivers are at high or good status, putting Ireland ahead of an EU average of around 40pc, there has been a decline in high-quality sites with pristine waters over the last two decades.
In the late 1980s, some 13.4pc of rivers were considered pristine. This fell to 0.7pc in 2013-2015 and is up to 1.1pc this year. This is a "very significant concern", the EPA said.
Some 93pc of canal waters are of good quality, compared with 71pc between 2013 and 2015. There has been a slight decline in good quality lakes, while pollution of the marine environment has increased since 2014.