THE ENVIRONMENTAL Protection Agency (EPA) has found that 97% of Ireland's bathing water met or exceeded the minimum required standard in 2021.
144 of the 148 identified bathing water spots met or exceeded the standard (78%), while 115 of them were rated excellent, up four from 2020.
13% were rated good, 7% were rated sufficient, 1% were rated poor and 1% were classified for the first time in 2021.
The two bathing waters that were classified as poor in 2021 were located in the Front Strand in Balbriggan in Co Dublin, which is impacted by sewage, animal faeces and contaminated streams and Lady's Bay at Buncrana in Co Donegal, which is impacted by wastewater, storm water overflows, and surface run-off made worse by heavy rainfall.
However, the number of poor bathing waters were down from four in 2020.
The report meanwhile highlighted improvements at Lilliput, Lough Ennell in Westmeath after three years at "poor" quality, meaning a restriction on swimming has been removed.
“During 2020 and 2021, the bathing water quality improved significantly due to actions taken by farmers in the surrounding area,” the EPA said.
“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.”
Two new bathing waters identified in 2020 were also classified for the first time following the 2021 season, with the water quality at Carrigaholt and Quilty, both in Co Clare, deemed as “excellent”.
Another new bathing water, Aillebrack/Silverhill Beach in Co Galway, was identified in 2021 and has yet to be classified.
Dr Eimear Cotter, Director of the EPA's Office of Evidence and Assessment, said:
"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.
"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."