Sunday 13 October 2019

Ireland’s rivers, lakes and beaches: natural treasures for us all to enjoy

You might like to walk along a beach or riverside, or maybe you enjoy fishing, boating, swimming, surfing, watching wildlife, or simply listening to a babbling brook.

Whatever your favourite activity is, our rivers, lakes and beaches are natural treasures that we can all enjoy.

Our local waters have stories to tell and whether it is a local holy well, The Salmon of Knowledge, or the poetry of The Lake Isle of Innisfree, these beautiful places have been sources of creative and spiritual inspiration throughout the ages.

Ireland is lucky to have a some of the healthiest waters in Western Europe. We have over 73,000 kilometres of rivers – enough to circle the world almost twice. We also have over 12,000 lakes and 850 square kilometres of estuaries.

No matter where you are in Ireland, you are never far from your local river, lake or beach. They are vital to our wellbeing, health and quality of life. The challenges facing all of these waters have been outlined in the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) latest Ireland’s Environment assessment report.  The Ireland’s Environment web pages have lots of infographics, graphs and trends about our waters. 

Ireland’s local authorities, working with the EPA, monitor the water quality of over 190 beaches and lakes across Ireland where people swim and publish the test results on  This website also contains lots of other information about your favourite beach – from swim restrictions to weather, tides and the availability of beach wheelchairs.

To help us understand how healthy Ireland’s waters are, and what could be causing any problems, local authorities and the EPA also monitor more than 13,000 km of river channel, 225 lakes, 83 estuaries and 43 coastal water bodies.

These water bodies are assessed under the European Union Water Framework Directive which came into effect in December 2000. Having a single European framework to assess water quality allows us to compare our results across Europe. All our waters are classified into one of five quality classes (status) under the Water Framework Directive:

1. High

2. Good

3. Moderate

4. Poor

5. Bad

‘High’ status is applied when the water is not polluted at all, and ‘bad’ status is used when the water is most polluted. The Water Framework Directive allows us to see what actions are needed to help restore our waters to ‘good’ or ‘high’ status, for example, and to protect ‘good’ or ‘high’ status water where it already exists.

Nationally, 57 per cent of rivers, 46 per cent of lakes, 31 per cent of estuaries and 79 per cent of coastal waters are achieving either good or high status under the Water Framework Directive. A further 91 per cent of groundwater bodies, which feed springs and wells across the country, are achieving good status.

To protect and restore our rivers, lakes and coastal waters, we need to understand a number of things: how they flow through diverse landscapes; how they are connected with the landscapes that surround them; and what is causing pressures on their ability to support the communities, livelihoods and ecosystems that depend on them for clean and healthy water. This new field is called catchment science.

The EPA has been undertaking an assessment of the impact of human activities on our water environment over the past three years. This has included working with all of Ireland’s local authorities, various public bodies, and government departments to make sure we are combining the data and expert local knowledge needed to make this assessment.

The EPA has identified the likely significant pressures that are contributing to water bodies being at less than good status, or at risk of deteriorating.  The most significant pressures are nutrient losses from agriculture, and wastewater discharges, both urban and rural. You can find lots of scientific information about Ireland’s waters, including nearly 5,000 pages of data, on

Significant pressures on At risk water bodies FINAL.JPG

The next few years will be vital for all of Ireland’s rivers, lakes and other waters. The Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government will soon publish a national River Basin Management Plan. This plan will outline measures that will be taken between 2018 and 2021 to protect and improve our waters.

We all have a part to play – whether it is making sure that your septic tank is properly maintained, getting your local TidyTown involved in looking after your community’s river or lake, or working with the new Sustainability Support and Advisory service on your farm to reduce nutrient runoff.  Everyone can do something to help.  By working together, we will achieve more.  

Local people know their area best, so it is vital to work together, and to learn from each other. If we act now, we can protect and restore Ireland’s water, so it can be enjoyed by everyone, now and into the future.

You can read stories about the work being done by local communities, researchers, government departments and the public agencies who look after our waters in the Catchments Newsletter,

The Waters and Communities Office has twelve Community Water Officers who have started working with people all around Ireland. If you would like to do something to restore and protect water quality in your local community, contact the Waters and Communities Office. You can find them at

Sponsored by: EPA

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