EU Swim Project

Bathing Water Quality

The Island of Ireland is surrounded by miles of astonishing coastline and stunning beaches, hence we rely on the sea as an important source of food and as a place for recreational enjoyment, meaning the importance of clean sea water cannot be underestimated.

 

Bathing water quality is measured by the level present of two types of bacteria:

  • – Escherichia coli
  • – Intestinal enterococci

 

An increase in the concentrations of these two types of bacteria indicate a decrease in bathing water quality.

Both of these bacteria are present in the intestines of animals and humans, and can be potentially harmful to human health; bathers, who swim in water impacted by a short-term pollution incident can be susceptible to illnesses, such as, gastroenteritis and ear infections.

 

 

Potentially harmful levels of bacteria present in coastal areas of water can be caused by factors such as heavy rainfall, or high tides, washing faecal material from sewage systems, urban drainage or agricultural sources, into the sea, via streams and rivers.

Other sources of contamination can come from:

  • Wrongly connected sewage pipes, which happen when domestic plumbing has been connected into surface water drains instead of the foul sewer; further information and advice on this can be found at connect right

 

  • Failed septic tank systems due to aging, user neglect, poor management and lack of maintenance, poses risks to surface and ground waters quality; to find out more visit The James Hutton Institute 

 

 

  • Pet owners failing to pick up after their dog has fouled on the beach, or close to a drain

 

  • Wildlife, such as, a large number of birds fouling in a small area, on, or near a beach, and overcrowded beaches with many swimmers in a small bathing area

 

Years when sunlight is below average can see a decrease in water quality, as the sun’s ultraviolet rays are able to kill bacteria found in bathing water.

In 1975, the first European bathing water legislation, the ‘Bathing Water Directive’ was introduced to protect and improve bathing water quality, with the aim of safeguarding human health and facilitating recreational use of natural waters; it was later replaced by the 2006 ‘New Bathing Water Directive’, which incorporates stricter standards along with simplified management and surveillance methods.

Each year, designated bathing water sites receive a water quality classification; they are classified as either:

Poor – the water has not met the minimum standards

Sufficient – the water meets minimum standards

Good – generally good water quality

Excellent – the highest, cleanest class

The ‘official’ bathing season, runs from mid-May to the end of September, during this time, bathing water samples are collected, tested in a laboratory and results released, on generally, a weekly basis.

However, water quality can change within the space of a day, so weekly manual testing may not be enough to protect human health; the EU SWIM Project is building a computer model, that uses weather variables, such as, rainfall, to provide accurate water quality predictions, up to 6 hours in advance, and these predictions will be communicated to the general public, via a specially designed, free app, social media channels, our website and electronic beach signs.

 

During the months outside of the bathing season, the computer model is not designed to make water quality predictions, as variables dramatically change with the arrival of winter. At these times, the electronic signage will be used by the project and councils to display relevant local messages, for e.g., the sign, pictured in the image to the right, is located at a beach frequently used by horse-riders, so the sign reads a message requesting that “riders please clean-up after their horses”, therefore the signs will help to keep the beach usable and safe, for all beach users, throughout the year.

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