Catchment News

EPA publishes ‘Water quality in 2023: an indicators report’

Water quality in 2023: an indicators report, published by the EPA on 12 June 2024, provides an update on the quality of water in Ireland’s rivers, lakes, transitional and coastal waters and groundwater using information collected in 2023. Overall, the report shows that there has been no significant change in water quality.

  • There has been no significant change in any of the water quality indicators for Ireland’s rivers, lakes, estuaries and groundwaters in 2023 and no sign of improvement overall.  
  • While improvements are happening in some rivers and lakes, these are being offset by declines elsewhere. 
  • The biggest issue impacting water quality is nutrient pollution from agriculture and wastewater. 
  • Average nitrate levels in rivers, groundwater, estuaries and coastal waters are largely unchanged and remain too high in the east, southeast and south.  
  • Average phosphorus levels in rivers and lakes are also largely unchanged and remain too high in over one quarter (27 per cent) of rivers and one third (35 per cent) of lakes.

“It is disappointing to report that our water quality is not improving. While there are initiatives happening nationally, measures to address water quality are not being implemented at the scale or pace required. The quality of our water bodies will not improve until nutrient levels are reduced in areas where they are elevated. It is essential that there is full compliance with the Good Agricultural Practice Regulations and that actions to reduce losses of nutrients from agriculture are targeted to where they are needed. We also need to see an acceleration in the pace at which Uisce Éireann is delivering improvements in wastewater infrastructure”

 Dr Eimear Cotter, Director of the EPA’s Office of Evidence and Assessment

Nitrogen pollution remains a significant issue in the east, southeast and south of the country. 42 per cent of river sites, 17 per cent of estuarine and coastal waters and 20 per cent of groundwater sites all have nitrogen levels that are unsatisfactory. This is primarily attributable to intensive agricultural activities on freely draining soils in these areas.

Phosphate levels can fluctuate annually but overall there has been no significant change over recent years. 27 per cent of river sites and 35 per cent of lakes (particularly in the north and northeast) have elevated phosphorus levels. Phosphorus entering our waters is largely associated with poorly treated wastewater and run-off from agricultural lands with poorly draining soils.

“The report shows that more action is needed to achieve our legally binding water quality objectives. It is imperative that the next River Basin Management Plan, which is now over two years late, is published without further delay. Associated with this, there needs to be a significant improvement in the tracking and reporting of measures, to identify what is and isn’t working so that actions can be adapted or enhanced where needed to deliver water quality improvements”.

Mary Gurrie, EPA Programme Manager

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This website has been developed and is maintained by the Environmental Protection Agency, and is a collaboration between the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Local Authority Waters Programme.


Local Authority Waters Programme

The Local Authority Waters Programme coordinates the efforts of local authorities and other public bodies in the implementation of the River Basin Management Plan, and supports local community and stakeholder involvement in managing our natural waters, for everyone’s benefit.


Environmental Protection Agency

The EPA is responsible for coordinating the monitoring, assessment and reporting on the status of our 4,842 water bodies, looking at trends and changes, determining which waterbodies are at risk and what could be causing this, and drafting environmental objectives for each.


Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage

The Department is responsible for making sure that the right policies, regulations and resources are in place to implement the Water Framework Directive, and developing a River Basin Management Plan and Programme of Measures to protect and restore our waters.