There has been no significant change in any of the water quality indicators for the country’s waterbodies, according to the latest Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) water indicator report, published on Wednesday.

Average nitrate levels in rivers, groundwater, estuaries and coastal waters are largely unchanged and remain too high in the east, southeast and south, according to the EPA.

It also found that average phosphorus levels in rivers and lakes are largely unchanged and remain too high in over one-quarter of rivers and one-third of lakes.

The three-year average concentrations for nitrate in rivers show that 42% of river sites nationally, mainly in the south and east, have unsatisfactory nitrate concentrations (above 8mg/l NO3). The national average for annual nitrate concentration in rivers was 8.2mg/l NO3 last year, no change on 2022.

The nitrate level in the southeast region fell from 13.5 to 13.1mg/l between 2022 and 2023, while the midlands and eastern level fell from 10.3 to 10.2mg/l NO3.

The southwest level rose from 7.5mg/l to 7.6mg/l NO3, while the border region fell from 3.4 to 3.2mg/l, and the western level fell from 2.6 to 2.4mg/l NO3.

The national average nitrate figures for groundwaters increased from 14.6 to 15.4mg/l NO3, with all regions showing either a stable level (southwest and west) or increasing nitrate level (southeast, midlands and eastern border regions).

Three-year average

The three-year average river phosphate concentrations saw little change for the 2021-2023 period. Some 27% of rivers have unsatisfactory phosphate concentrations.


Dr Eimear Cotter, director of the EPA’s office of evidence and assessment, described the latest findings as disappointing.

“While there are initiatives happening nationally, measures to address water quality are not being implemented at the scale or pace required. The quality of our waterbodies will not improve until nutrient levels are reduced in areas where they are elevated.”

She said full compliance with good agricultural practice regulations was “essential” and actions to reduce nutrient loss from agriculture should be targeted to where they are needed.

She also called for “an acceleration in the pace at which Uisce Éireann is delivering improvements in wastewater infrastructure”.