Catchment News

Water Quality in 2017: an indicators report

The EPA has today released the Water Quality in 2017: An Indicators Report for Ireland. The 16 indicators in the report provide information on the quality of Ireland’s rivers, lakes, canals, estuaries, coastal waters, beaches and groundwaters.

The report showed a net overall decline of 3 per cent (72 water bodies) in the water quality in Irish rivers between 2015 and 2017, despite some improvements.

  • 197 river water bodies have improved in quality but 269 water bodies have deteriorated compared with the last full assessment in 2013-2015. This means a net overall decline of 3% (72 water bodies).
  • The long-term loss of high quality river sites is continuing with a further 0.6% decline since 2015.
  • Most pollution is caused by too much nitrogen and phosphorus entering waters. Despite a long-term reduction, recent data indicates that levels of nitrogen and phosphorus are beginning to rise again. Unless addressed, this is likely to lead to further declines in water quality in the future.

There have been some positive changes:

  • Serious pollution continues to decrease. Only two river water bodies were seriously polluted in the latest reporting period compared to five in 2013-2015. Historically there were 91 seriously polluted water bodies in the late 1980s.
  • Fish kills are at an all-time low with only 14 reported in 2017 compared to 31 in 2016.

Commenting on the report, Dr Matt Crowe, Director of the EPA’s Office of Evidence and Assessment said:

“Clean, healthy water is essential to our health and wellbeing. The signals in this report are not good and tell us that water quality is still getting worse in some areas despite improvements in others.  This is simply unacceptable.  We must do more to halt deterioration in water quality so that we protect this most precious public resource.

“Substantial additional resources have recently been put in place by the State with the creation of the Local Authorities’ Waters Programme and the Agricultural Sustainability Support and Advice Programme.  These programmes will support action at local level to address the issues causing water pollution.  We now need to start seeing visible improvements in water quality through the work of these new programmes.  The EPA will continue to play its part in this by providing the science and evidence to support action on the ground and will also continue to report regularly on progress.”

Addressing the main findings of the assessment, Andy Fanning, Programme Manager, EPA Office of Evidence and Assessment said,

“The report highlights that the loss of our best quality waters is continuing.  It is also clear that there is a general decline in river water quality.  Worryingly, this report also shows a rise in nutrient inputs to our seas from our rivers.

“Most pollution is caused by too much nitrogen and phosphorus entering waters. These excess nutrients come from human activities, predominantly our farms and urban areas. The increases are an early warning that we need to address the sources and the pathways by which these nutrients make their way into our rivers and lakes. The success in addressing serious pollution and the reduction in fish kills shows that we can make positive changes when we put our minds to it.”

The report is available on the EPA website.

Who is involved?

Quite simply, everyone in Ireland has a role to play. This can be from something as simple as making sure you don’t pollute your local stream, or a local community working together to establish a Rivers Trust to enhance the rivers and lakes in their area, to a Government Department or Agency helping a Minister implement a new policy to help protect and enhance all our water bodies.

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.