Extreme pressures on beaches but council focused on retaining Blue Flags

Mayo County Council is intent on ensuring beaches such as Old Head and Carramore in Louisburgh reclaim their Blue Flag status and is doing all it can to carefully monitor and control water quality on all beaches in the county.

Such was the reassurance tendered to members of Westport Municipal District by the council's Head of Environment, Martin Keating, at the May meeting of the authority, where he explained: "We run a beach management partnership with the Municipal District and the local community. Over the last two years there have been extreme pressures, particularly in the summer months, due to the very high number of visitors that came. While there have been some teething issues it is fair to say we managed those additional numbers reasonably well, with some help from national government in terms of expenditure and by providing an extra €50,000 in this year's budget for beach maintenance, which is a considerable increase; but it is never enough to manage all of the additional demands in regard to temporary toilet provision and extended lifeguard services throughout the summer period.

"On the Blue Flag and Green Coast programmes, our role is to do the sampling and to liaise with the HSE on protocol around public health criteria and the monitoring of bathing waters, to make sure they are safe to use; then we work with MD staff here to ensure the beaches are kept to the standard required for these awards and where incidents on water quality arise, that they are managed effectively so that public health is protected.

"The pressures on our beaches are predominantly diffuse rather than spot pressure from an environmental incident arising; so the source of the issue is more difficult to find, can be at a lower level and can be amplified by weather events, which have been more intense in nature in recent years, with rain in summers now more intense than before.

"Diffuse incidents can arise from malfunctioning domestic waste water schemes or misdirection; agriculture is a pressure in all areas; dog fouling is also a risk as well as a whole host of human activities during the bathing season. There is a strategy adopted by our SPC on highest priority so that any investment we make is towards retention and regaining of Blue Flag status on beaches; then disabled access is the next priority and then dealing with waste water treatment of public toilets on our Blue Flag beaches - which is a risk that needs to be managed."

Reflecting on 2021 and the year ahead, Mr Keating said: "It was disappointing that further blue flags on Clare Island and Carramore beach were not retained. The Clare Island issue was in regard to one sample and it was a very narrow call and we are confident we are on the right track about getting it resolved; on Carramore, a number of samples were found to be elevated. We are committed to remedying this and also pay tribute to our island communities on Inishturk and Clare island for the work they do where others have shied away."

He added that: "Surprisingly, while Old Head also failed to retained its flag, it was a good year for the beach and it achieved the Excellent standard. Blue Flag is obtained over a four-year period and Old Head has not been able to attain the standard since that criteria was introduced nearly a decade ago, as samples are not taken just over one year but four years. We hope the tide may have turned for Old Head and our work continues there. A number of septic tanks there have been inspected and connection to public plants. Work has started already and an information campaign is about to kick off with involvement of the local community."

In response to requests from councillors for confirmation that treatment systems around Carramore and Old Head are being examined, Head of Municipal District, Padraig Walsh, informed councillors he had written to Irish Water as per their request and received a general reply that simply read: "Louisburgh and Old Head water treatment systems are operating satisfactorily and as designed."


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