Continued and Unwelcome Decline in Irish Waterways – EPA Report

Published by Dan Connell on

August 31, 2017

Anglers and waterway-enthusiasts have been raising the alarm for decades. Whether we really listened while they talked is a moot point.

Either way, it is now official – the quality of Ireland’s rivers has witnessed a “continued and unwelcome decline” since the late 1980s.

This is the finding of the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) in its latest Water Quality in Ireland Report released today.

The report covers 2010 to 2015 and is the first full, six-year assessment required under the Water Framework Directive (WFD). The WFD requires good water status for all water bodies, other than in exceptional circumstances.

Despite “little overall change in water quality” in the six years period, the EPA stated that plans to meet our target of a 13 per cent improvement in water status had failed. Similarly, the environmental watchdog noted a failure to prevent deterioration of water status at hundreds of water bodies around the country.

Only 21 sites of those assessed achieved the highest quality rating from 2013-2015 compared to over 500 sites in the late 1980s. According to the EPA, this “cancels out” improvements seen at a similar number of water bodies”.


Overall, the report found that 91 per cent of groundwater bodies, 57 per cent of rivers, 46 per cent of lakes, 31 per cent of estuaries and 79 per cent of coastal waters were of “good quality”.

The report also points to the continued reduction in the level of seriously polluted waters, with only six river water bodies categorised as “Bad” in 2010–2015, compared to 19 in 2007–2009.

While the assessment states that this is “welcome progress”, it is a struggle to see this as anything but a false-positive based on the comments of Dr Matt Crowe, Director of the EPA’s Office of Evidence and Assessment.

“The good news is that we have almost eliminated the worst of the worst of polluted sites. The bad news is that the decline in our most pristine waters, the best of the best, has continued,” he said.

“Clean and well-protected water is a key national asset and supports many important economic activities such as agriculture, manufacturing and tourism. We must do a lot more and work much harder at protecting this vital national asset,” Dr Crowe added.

Greater Focus and Funding Needed

The report stressed that necessary measures, resources and a “greater focus on protecting our most pristine water environments is needed” to stop any further deterioration and make necessary improvements of our waterways.

According to Dr Crowe, decisions about “what to do, who should do it, and who should pay” will require “constructive engagement and collaboration” with various stakeholders based on available scientific evidence. “By doing this, the right action can be taken in the right place by the right people and organisations,” he added.

Karin Dubsky of Coastwatch, which monitors the coastal and wetland environments across Ireland and Europe, echoed that the way forward is by “an all-out national focus on implementation of the Water Framework Directive”.

The Trinity College Dublin-based marine ecologist outlined the importance of “cherishing our coastal resources like seaweed forests” and the need for monitoring, protection and restoration work, with “citizen science as an essential ingredient”.

“Recent citizen science work on small streams in the Southeast highlighted the value of involving citizens who rediscovered their streams, did water quality tests, found fish and water pollution point sources which now Wexford county council is tackling,” she added.

The EPA produces periodic Water Quality in Ireland Reports on a three-yearly cycle, all of which are available on the EPA website. Accompanying data used in the water quality assessments is available on More recent localised information on water quality is available on-line through and

The release coincides with World Water Week, which links scientific understanding with policy-making and positive action toward water-related challenges.

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Dan Connell

Daniel is a journalist and contributor to Green News, whose focus is on marine conservation and environmental issues. He holds a BSc (Hons) in Marine Science from NUI Galway.