Swimmers asked for views on local bathing areas

(Above) Portnashangan at Lough Owel is one of three inland designated bathing areas in Westmeath.

A public consultation starting later this month will give Westmeath's cold water swimmers the opportunity to propose new sites that should designated official bathing water locations.

At present three of Ireland's seven designated inland bathing water locations are situated in Westmeath: Portnashangan at Lough Owel, The Cut at Lough Lene and Lilliput at Lough Ennell. Once a site becomes a designated bathing location, the local authority has a statutory obligation to monitor the water quality there during the bathing season which runs from June 1 to September 15.

Speaking at the recent meeting of the council's Strategic Policy Committee on Environment, Climate Action, Water and Emergency Services, senior engineer Jonathan Deane said that the consultation process, which happens annually, gives the public the opportunity to propose bathing sites that they feel should be designated official locations. The consultation will be carried out online on the council's website.

“We will be looking for members of the public to tell us where they swim, how many people use the site, what facilities are at the site and if there are any safety issues. Then we will do a survey in a very objective way to evaluate these sites.

“There are only seven inland designated inland bathing sites in the country and three are in County Westmeath. As a county we are very much to the fore in maintaining our bathing sites,” he said.

SPC member Cllr Louise Heavin said that she was glad that the public consultation was coming up as there are a significant number of people who regularly swim at Coosan Point and Glasson Marina.

“I think there are definitely more bathing water points that we should be monitoring, particularly Coosan Point given the number of people who are using it.

“I'd like to see more come on board. I know then we would be definitely punching above our weight in terms of designated bathing water points, but I think we should. We are the Lake County. That should be our brand.”

Sectoral member Adrian Elliot said that Portlick in Glasson is another bathing site on Lough Ree that is used by a growing number of swimmers and “could be developed a lot further”.

SPC chair Cllr Frank McDermott said that there seems to be a growing number of people cold water swimming all year round in Westmeath's lakes.

“Looking at Lough Lene it doesn't depend on good weather either. A number of people have these suits on them. We should keep an eye on the quality of the water at all times during the winter, maybe once a month, to make sure everything is in order,” he said.

Director of services Deirdre Reilly stressed that when it comes to the designation of new bathing sites there is a process that has to be gone through and that “it is not a given” that nominations will be successful as there are “a lot of things to be considered”.