European bathing water quality in 2010


Courtesy of European Environment Agency (EEA)

Europeans care about water quality and rank bathing water quality as a priority when judging their local environment. Knowing that they have clean and safe water to swim or play in is an important factor in their choice of a holiday or weekend destination. For the tourism industry, clean and safe water is also a major factor in attracting visitors to an area.

To allow Europeans to make an informed choice of beach, the European Union (EU) publishes an annual report on the quality of coastal and inland bathing areas, as reported by EU Member States. Since 2009 the European Environment Agency (EEA) and its European Topic Centre on Inland, Coastal and Marine Waters have prepared the report in cooperation with the European Commission Directorate-General for the Environment.

This report provides a comprehensive synopsis of the quality of bathing waters in the Member States of the European Union in the 2010 bathing season. It thereby gives an indication of the areas where the quality of bathing is expected to be good during 2011. In addition, the report also shows the evolution of bathing water quality from 1990 to 2010.

The first European bathing water legislation, the 'old bathing water directive' (1) was adopted in 1975 and came into force in 1976. Its main objectives are to safeguard public health and protect the aquatic environment in coastal and inland areas from pollution. Bathing waters covered by the old bathing water directive can be coastal waters or inland waters (rivers, natural lakes, reservoirs and ponds) in which bathing is explicitly authorised by the competent authorities of each Member State, or not prohibited and traditionally practiced by a large number of bathers. Swimming pools and waters for therapeutic purposes are not covered. The period during which bathers can be expected in bathing areas depends largely on local bathing rules and weather conditions. A bathing season can also vary within a Member State. In the European Union it usually runs from the end of May until the end of September.

New European legislation on bathing water was adopted in 2006 (2). The 'new bathing water directive' updates the measures of the 1975 legislation and simplifies its management and surveillance methods. It also provides for a more proactive approach to informing the public on water quality and creates four quality categories for bathing waters — 'poor', 'sufficient', 'good' and 'excellent'. The classification of bathing water quality is determined on the basis of a four-year (or three-year) trend instead of a single year's result as for the old directive. Therefore, the procedure for assessing quality classes of bathing waters under the new bathing water directive gives more reliable and realistic results than the assessment under its predecessor.

The classification under the new bathing water directive is also less susceptible to bad weather or one-off incidents. Heavy rain or similar exceptional situations may cause pollution problems for a few days. In such situations authorities have to introduce immediate measures to lower the health risk to bathers. They are allowed, however, to exclude such events from their overall assessment of bathing water quality, as presented in this report.

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