Study finds drop in the number of unspoiled Irish rivers

The EPA assessment finds little overall change in water quality

Study finds drop in the number of unspoiled Irish rivers

Cattle on a farm on the Shannon River above Carrick-on-Shannon in Co Leitrim | Image: Eamonn Farrell/

A six year assessment of Irish water has found a serious decline in the number of unspoiled rivers.

The release of the study by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) coincides with World Water Week.

It covers the six-year period between 2010 and 2015 and is the first full, six-year, assessment of the status of our waters under the Water Framework Directive.

The assessment concludes that there has been little overall change in water quality in the six years up to the end of 2015.

It says there has been:

  • a failure to meet the planned national target of 13% improvement in water status for the six-year period
  • a failure to prevent deterioration of water status at hundreds of water bodies around the country, which cancels out the improvements in water status at a similar number of water bodies in other parts of the country
  • welcome progress relating to a continued reduction in the level of seriously polluted waters - only six river water bodies were categorised as 'Bad' in 2010-2015 compared to 19 in 2007-2009
  • a continued decline in the number of our pristine rivers

The EPA says only 21 river sites achieved the highest quality rating from 2013-2015, compared to over 500 sites in the late 1980s

Dr Matt Crowe is director of the EPA’s Office of Evidence and Assessment.

"We are fortunate in Ireland to have so many beautiful beaches, rivers, lakes, estuaries and canals.

"Water is part of what we are as an island people and there are few of us who do not have a personal connection to water, be it our favourite beach, river or lake, the well that supplies our family with drinking water or our favourite spot for a bit of fishing or a quiet walk.

"Clean and well protected water is also 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."

Overall, 91% of groundwater bodies, 57% of rivers, 46% of lakes, 31% of estuaries and 79% of coastal waters were found to be of good quality.

The Water Framework Directive, other than in exceptional circumstances, requires good water status for all water bodies.

Addressing the main findings of the assessment, Dr Crowe added: "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.

"We now need to put the necessary measures and resources in place to arrest any further deterioration of water status and to make necessary improvements."

Read the report in full here