There was no significant change in phosphate or nitrogen levels in rivers in 2023, an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) water quality report shows.

While some rivers and lakes show an improvement in water quality, these are being offset by declines elsewhere.

According to the report, nitrogen pollution remains a significant issue in the east, southeast and south of the country. Some 17% of estuarine and coastal waters and 20% of groundwater sites have nitrogen levels classed as “unsatisfactory”.

The report attributes this to intensive agricultural activities on freely draining soils.

While it is acknowledged that phosphate levels fluctuate annually, there has been no significant change in recent years.

Elevated levels

Elevated phosphorus levels were found in 27% of river sites and 35% of lakes, and was particularly evident in the north and northwest of the country.

Phosphorus entering water is associated with poorly treated wastewater and run-off from agricultural lands with poorly draining soils.


Director of the EPA’s office of evidence and assessment Eimear Cotter said that it is “disappointing that our water quality is not improving”.

“It is essential that there is full compliance with the Good Agricultural Practice Regulations and that actions to reduce losses of nutrients from agriculture are targeted to where they are needed.

"We also need to see an acceleration in the pace at which Uisce Éireann is delivering improvements in wastewater infrastructure,” she added.

More action

Mary Gurrie, EPA programme manager, added:

“The report shows that more action is needed to achieve our legally binding water quality objectives. It is imperative that the next River Basin Management Plan, which is now over two years late, is published without further delay.

"Associated with this, there needs to be a significant improvement in the tracking and reporting of measures, to identify what is and isn’t working so that actions can be adapted or enhanced where needed to deliver water quality improvements," she said.