Front shore, Lady's Bay, in Buncrana, one of two beaches deemed 'poor'

The front shore in Buncrana, Lady's Bay, is one of just two beaches in the 26 counties where the bathing water quality was deemed to have been 'poor' last year, according to the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) annual report.

Waste water, stormwater and surface water run-off are to be blame for the quality deteriorating from sufficient in 2020 to poor in 2021, the EPA report states.

The only other beach in the south graded poor was the front strand in Balbriggan, Co. Dublin.

"The main sources of pollution affecting the bathing water are Buncrana waste water treatment plant, combined stormwater overflows, and surface run-off, which are made worse by heavy rainfall," the EPA explain.

The water quality at Lady's Bay was deemed poor by the EPA.

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Remediation works are planned in order to improve the water quality at the popular Donegal bathing spot.

"Irish Water is due to begin upgrade works at Westbrook pumping station and the sewer network during the summer of 2022 and a new larger capacity storm tank is also due to be constructed at Buncrana waste water treatment plant," the report states.

The situation is significantly worse in Balbriggan where 'the main sources of pollution are sewage discharges and misconnections; faeces from dogs, birds and other animals; and contaminated surface streams flowing through the town'.

The report shows that 78 per cent of bathing sites in the 26 counties have excellent water quality, while 97 per cent meet the minimum standard.

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This is attributed to improved management of bathing waters over many years, combined with investments in treatment of urban waste water.

Dr. Eimear Cotter, Director of the EPA’s Office of Evidence and Assessment, said: “Bathing water quality in Ireland is high and last year saw further improvements compared with 2020. This is good news as we approach the summer when we can enjoy our local beaches and bathing areas, which are an important natural amenity for health and wellbeing.

"The EPA recognises that swimming is increasingly becoming a year-round activity and encourages the provision of information that will help winter swimmers to make informed choices to protect their health.

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"The findings and outcome of the multi-stakeholder National Bathing Water Expert Group, due later this year, will provide important information in this regard and help identify potential options to better protect bathers who swim year-round.”

The EPA report specifically highlights improvements at Lilliput, Lough Ennell in Westmeath after three years at poor quality. During 2020 and 2021, the bathing water quality improved significantly due to actions taken by farmers in the surrounding area.

This was driven by evidence and science generated by Westmeath County Council, the Local Authority Waters Programme and the Agricultural Sustainability, Support and Advisory Programme working together. As a result, the restriction on swimming has been removed.

The EPA encourages swimmers to engage with Local Authorities to officially identify additional local bathing sites which will ensure they are managed to protect bathers’ health.

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Further information on bathing water and updates on monitoring results during the bathing water season (June 1 to September 15) are available at www.beaches.ie.