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Friday 22 September 2023 Dublin: 12°C
Shutterstock/Andrzej Bartyzel River Suir in Waterford where water quality has declined.
# Troubled Waters
Water quality in almost half of Ireland's lakes and rivers deemed unsatisfactory
Coastal waters had the highest proportion of water bodies in good or high ecological status, according to an EPA report.

THE QUALITY OF almost half of Ireland’s lakes and rivers are deemed to be unsatisfactory, according to a new report from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

The EPA is an independent body responsible for policing and protecting the environment from negative or harmful influences – including Ireland’s forests, beaches and waters. 

It found that the water quality in Ireland has been deteriorating with almost a fifth (18%) of water bodies seeing a deterioration since the agency carried out its last full assessment between 2010 and 2015.

Minister for Housing Eoghan Murphy said that he’s “concerned” that adverse trends previously identified by the EPA have continued in this latest report.

The report is based on an assessment of biological and environmental data collected from over 2,700 surface water bodies and 514 groundwater bodies over the six years between 2013 and 2018.

Only 53% of rivers, 50% of lakes and 38% of estuaries were found to have good or high ecological status with the remainder classed as having moderate, poor, or bad status. 

Coastal waters had the highest proportion of water bodies in good or high ecological status at 80%, and just one of the 45 coastal waters tested deemed to have bad water quality. 

The main reasons identified for the decline in water quality are agriculture, wastewater, excess sediment being deposited, and forestry activities. 

epa report EPA EPA

Last month, another EPA report found raw sewage from 77,000 people is being released into the environment every day from mainly coastal areas around the country.


Some 128 rivers saw a decline in status, representing a 5.5% increase in the number which are considered to be unsatisfactory by the EPA.

The past 30 years have seen a sharp decline in the quality of Ireland’s rivers. In the late 1980s there were over 500 rivers considered to be in pristine condition. That number has fallen to 20 rivers with that status.

The number of seriously polluted rivers has also started to rise from six based on the previous report, to 9 rivers, according to the current data.

The number of fish kills increased to 40 in 2018 after a historic low of 14 in 2017. It is likely that the hot summer and low flow conditions in 2018 had an impact on this.

“The findings of this report indicate that water quality is getting worse after a period of relative stability and improvement,” EPA Director Matt Crowe said.

“We now have an increase in the number of the most polluted river sites, and the number of rivers in poor ecological health is also increasing.

“Positive trends reported previously by the EPA have reversed. Not only are we failing to improve overall water quality, we are also failing to prevent further deterioration of our rivers.”

Lakes have stabilised and a number of water bodies in this category have improved since the EPA’s last analysis.

Current trends, however, show that total phosphorous concentrations are on the rise in over a quarter of lakes analysed. Higher nutrient concentrations can lead to a growth in algae and damage lake ecology.

Estuaries and lagoons – known as transitional bodies – have the poorest quality when it comes to water bodies in Ireland, with just 38% in good or better ecological status.

Minister Murphy said: “I am concerned that the adverse trends first reported by the EPA in their previous water quality indicators report have continued and that river water quality has continued to worsen, with a net decline of more than 5% in river water bodies.

It is now more important than ever that all sectors engage in this increasingly urgent situation and reduce their impact on water quality by delivering the necessary improvements in a timely and efficient way. 

He said the government has undertaken a number of actions to try to improve water quality in Ireland in recent years. 

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