The Environmental Protection Agency has found that the quality of Ireland's bathing water continued to improve in 2021, with 97% designated bathing waters meeting or exceeding the minimum standard.

Only two beaches out of 148 bathing locations failed to satisfy the minimum standard.

The EPA said the overall improvement is a result of enhanced management of bathing waters over many years, combined with investments in treatment of urban wastewater.

The start of the official designated bathing season in Ireland is less than three weeks away and this year the news for bathers is good.

This year 78% of beaches deemed excellent, 13% good, 7% sufficient, and just two beaches failed and were classed as poor.

They were the Front Strand in Balbriggan in Co Dublin - which is impacted by sewage, animal faeces and contaminated streams - and Lady’s Bay at Buncrana in Co Donegal - which is impacted by wastewater, stormwater overflows, and surface run-off made worse by heavy rainfall.

The EPA is encouraging swimmers to ask their local authorities to officially identify additional local bathing sites to ensure they are managed and monitored to protect bathers' health.

There are 115 bathing locations identified as having excellent water quality in the EPA report, four more than last year, while the number classed as poor went down by two.

The EPA noted, however, that although bathing water quality has continued to improve overall, there are still issues which need to be addressed to protect and further improve bathing waters.

Agriculture, urban wastewater and fouling from dogs on beaches still impact the quality of bathing waters.

In addition, heavy rainfall can also quickly impact by washing pollution into our bathing waters.

Bathing Water Quality map of Ireland (Source:EPA/Ordnance Survey Ireland)

It said that swimmers should always check for the latest water quality information for their local bathing site.

The report highlights significant improvements in bathing water quality at Lilliput on Lough Ennel in Co Westmeath which had been designated as poor quality for the previous three years.

It says that actions taken by farmers in the surrounding area over the past two years have rescued the situation at Lilliput.

This was driven by evidence and science generated by Westmeath County Council, the Local Authority Waters Programme and the Agricultural Sustainability, Support and Advisory Programme all working together.

As a result of these improvements the restriction on swimming which had been in place there has been removed.

Dr Eimear Cotter, Director of the EPA's Office of Evidence and Assessment said the agency recognises that swimming is increasingly becoming a year-round activity.

She said the EPA "encourages the provision of information that will help winter swimmers to make informed choices to protect their health".

"The findings and outcome of the multi-stakeholder National Bathing Water Expert Group, due later this year, will provide important information in this regard and help identify potential options to better protect bathers who swim year-round," she added.

Two bathing waters were identified in 2020 and were classified for the first time following the 2021 season.

They were Carrigaholt and Quilty, both in Co Clare and both have been deemed excellent in this latest report.

One new bathing water, Aillebrack/Silverhill Beach, Co Galway was identified last year 2021.

In addition 42 pollution incidents were reported to EPA during 2021.

Such incidents have the potential to cause a pollution risk and, when they occur, swimming restrictions are applied at the beach until sampling shows the water quality is safe.

Local authorities also put up 104 'Prior Warning’ notices at beaches last year to warn swimmers that short-term pollution (lasting no more than a few days) may occur due to heavy rainfall.

These warnings are removed when sampling shows the water quality is safe.