Nitrate concentrations are increasing in nearly half of Irish river and groundwater sites, according to the latest figures from Ireland’s environmental watchdog.

Nutrient concentrations in waters are “too high” and the trends are going “in the wrong direction” the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) stated in its Water Quality Indicators Report 2019.

The report provides an assessment on Ireland’s surface water and groundwater quality. It found that the main threat to water quality is the presence of too much nutrients, primarily nitrogen and phosphorus, with agriculture and waste water the main sources.

Agriculture impacts on over half (53%) of the 1,460 water bodies at risk of not meeting their environmental objectives, and urban waste water impacts on 22%.


Nearly half (47%) of river sites have unsatisfactory nitrate concentrations and 44% of sites are showing an increasing nitrate trend for the period 2013 to 2019. A third of sites, mainly in the northeast, have unsatisfactory phosphate concentrations and one quarter are showing an increasing phosphate trend.

The trend in nitrates is similar in groundwaters, where almost half have increasing nitrate concentrations.

Prior to 2015, only a small proportion of river sites had increasing nitrate and phosphate concentrations (1.4% and 4.2%, respectively).


Commenting on the assessment, EPA director Dr Micheál Lehane said: “Of most concern is the continued upward trend of nitrate concentrations. The problem is particularly evident in the south and southeast of the country, where the main source is agriculture.”

The EPA’s programme manager Mary Gurrie said urgent action was now needed to reduce nutrient inputs from agriculture.

“Measures need to be targeted at the critical source areas where nitrogen and phosphate problems occur. There is a lot of good work happening at a local level to improve water quality and this needs to be scaled up to deliver the improvements needed,” Gurrie said.

The ongoing review of the nitrates regulations, the new Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), and the full implementation of the EU Farm to Fork Strategy and Biodiversity Strategy were identified by the EPA as significant opportunities to achieve improvements in water quality.

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