The Blue Flag and Water Quality
Blue Flag is an international award and it therefore has one minimum global standard for water quality. The beach must comply with the standard outlined in the Blue Flag criteria or the standard outlined in national legislation, whichever is the most demanding. The standard required by Blue Flag beaches in Ireland is an Annual Water Quality Rating of Excellent, the highest rating under the EU Bathing Water Directive 2006/7/EC (transposed into Irish Law by the Bathing Water Regulations 2008).
The annual water quality rating of a beach is based on water quality monitoring results covering the previous four years. Basing the assessment over a 4 year period provides a better overall assessment of water quality at the beach. An excellent annual water quality rating of a beach does not necessarily mean that the current water quality will be the same.
During the bathing season, samples are taken at least every 31 days to check the levels of bacteria in the water in accordance with the Bathing Water Regulations. The parameters tested are E.Coli and Intestinal Enterococci. The water quality of each sample is assessed as either ‘Excellent’, ‘Good’, ‘Sufficient’ or ‘Poor’. These limits are qualitative and take account of regulatory limits set out in the Bathing Water Regulations 2008. Water quality results are posted at the onsite Blue Flag notice board and on beaches.ie.
The Environmental Protection Agency in conjunction with the Heath Service Executive apply strict guidelines to the assessment of individual beach water samples and the actions to be taken if the required standard is not met during the bathing season. This may occasionally require that a swim restriction such as an Advice Not to Swim or Do Not Swim notice is applied at a beach to protect the health of swimmers and beach users.
Timely communication of elevated bacterial counts is required to safeguard the health of potential bathers. In the event of a bathing water pollution incident the Blue Flag will be temporarily withdrawn by the Local Authority and bathing restriction notices posted at entrances to the beach, the beach notice boards; and notification’s also go out via social media. Following a pollution incident additional bathing water samples are taken for analysis to confirm that the incident has ended so that any bathing restrictions in place can be lifted.