Lady’s Bay, Buncrana’s shorefront beach, is facing into a second summer where swimming will be discouraged after another poor water quality assessment was issued by the Environmental Protection Agency last week.
Lady’s Bay was reported as having the dirtiest bathing water in Ireland. This was due to pollution caused when Buncrana’s sewage treatment plant occasionally discharges untreated wastewater into Lough Swilly, combined with stormwater overflows and surface run-off worsened by heavy rainfall.
The Front Stand in Balbriggan in north Dublin and Trá na mBan (Lady’s Beach) in the Galway Gaeltacht village of An Spidéal were also cited.
Sewage treated at the Buncrana wastewater plant is discharged into Lough Swilly through a submerged outfall pipe 515 metres from the shore.
It occasionally malfunctions during heavy rainfall.
In August 2021, routine monitoring recorded E.coli pollution levels that were almost 50 times over the threshold for safe swimming.
Uisce Éireann, the water services utility, recently commenced upgrades to Buncrana’s sewerage network, including the construction of large holding tanks at Westbrook on the Crana River and at the main treatment plant on Railway Road.
These are designed to reduce the incidence of overflows during periods of heavy rainfall.
However, those upgrades are not scheduled to be completed until well beyond the end of the 2023 bathing season in September.
Run off from agricultural land in the Crana and Mill River catchments is identified as presenting a low risk of pollution.
Donegal County Council bye-laws forbidding dogs on blue flag beaches owing to the pollution threat presented by canine faeces come into effect this summer.
However, dog fouling is not mentioned as a pollution risk at Lady’s Bay.
Culdaff and Shroove beaches were amongst 16 Donegal beaches deemed to have excellent bathing water quality.
The EPA has a four point scale for classifying bathing water quality where 1 is excellent, 2 good, 3 sufficient and 4 poor.
Local authorities across the country monitor water quality at 148 beaches and lakes across the country by analysing water samples during peak June- September season.
In all, 117 designated bathing sites recorded excellent water quality.
Lisfannon beach has had good water quality for each of the past four years, having lost its excellent status in 2017.
2023 will mark the 20th year of Lady’s Bay as a designated bathing site subject to regular monitoring by Donegal County Council during the summer months.
It enjoyed good quality reports until the summer of 2014 when it was temporarily closed to bathing following a pollution incident.
Water quality recovered in subsequent years, but fell to sufficient in 2020 and has been poor in both 2021 and 2022.
There have been examples of improvements to water quality that can be quite quickly achieved once the causes of pollution are addressed.