By Rose Barrett
The EPA’s recent Annual Bathing Water report for 2021 has once again ignited a debate on pollution concerns and the regularity of water testing in Dublin’s popular swimming spots.
There was good news for Portrane (the Brook) Beach which improved from ‘Poor’ to ‘Good’ in the EPA ratings, and therefore swimming restrictions are now lifted.
Balbriggan’s Front Strand Beach, however, has been downgraded from ‘Sufficient’ to ‘Poor’ and therefore is now restricted to swimmers. Loughshinny Beach was downgraded from a previously Good rating to Sufficient.
Fingal County Council has given assurances that it will work with various agencies to improve the water quality at the downgraded beaches.
It considers sewage discharges and misconnections from domestic plumbing systems, birds and wildlife plus contaminated surface streams as being the main sources of pollution.
A Management Plan for Balbriggan has been prepared and submitted to the EPA* along with a pollution assessment study on the River Bracken.
Fingal CoCo has carried out surveys to identify locations where sewage pipes have been wrongly connected to surface water run-off pipes. Inspections of farms in the catchment area of the River Bracken will be carried out.
Green Party Cllr Karen Power welcomed the Excellent rating for four Fingal beaches: Portmarnock’s Velvet Strand, Sutton’s Burrow Beach, Donabate’s Balcarrick Beach and Rush South Beach.
“Never before did we realise how beneficial it is for people’s mental health and well-being to have access to outdoor amenities, especially swimming and water sports,” stated Cllr Power.
“However, I’m concerned that water quality testing to be carried out on May 24 has now been pushed out till June 8.
“The EPA water grading comes into effect on June 1. There will be a further time lapse before the results are made available from June 8 testing. There is a ban now at Balbriggan Front Beach for the swimming season (traditionally June to September).
“I’ve asked Fingal CoCo to request the EPA to lift that swimming ban should a positive result be returned from the June testing.”
While EPA Director Dr Eimear Cotter welcomed the improvement in quality of bathing water in 2020 – 96% recorded an improvement or at least met minimum standards – SOS Dublin Bay spokesperson Peter Whelehan noted that pollution incidents “were actually up 14% on last year, from 50 to 57 incidents”.
Cllr Power and Mr Whelehan were united in their calls for all-year round testing of Dublin sea waters.
Speaking on behalf of SOS Dublin Bay, Mr Whelehan stated prior warnings of pollution incidents had also increased in the EPA report.
He questioned the EPA citing 96% of bathing waters met or exceeded the minimum requirements, given that water testing is only carried out for 14 weeks per annum, from June 1 to September 15.
“As we know, people swim all year round now so the bathing season needs to be redefined as a 12-month season and samples need to be taken all year round (and on a daily basis) to reflect this,” he said vehemently.
“As it rains more in winter, there is significantly more pollution due to storm water run offs impacting sea water, lakes and rivers and overflows into Dublin Bay from the likes of Ringsend Water Treatment Plant.
“Risk is highest in winter so that’s when more testing should take place – not none!”
Mr Whelehan further noted that the EPA report advised “After any heavy rainfall, it’s best to avoid recreational water activities at your beach or bathing area for at least 48 hours” – effectively admitting that all beaches are polluted after heavy rain and present a possible public health risk.
Cllr Power also questioned the closure of Balbriggan Beach based on historical results from the previous four years.
“Since 2017 there have been 36 tests carried out at Balbriggan. Twenty nine tests were returned as Excellent – that’s approximately 83% with a test in August 2020 rated as Poor. This could not be attributed to runoff as there had been no rain for more than a week prior to testing. There was speculation that is was due to bird fouling at the time.”