Every year, millions of Europeans take advantage of the continent's wonderful selection of beaches, rivers, and lakes for a relaxing holiday or a day out. It is vitally important that they know the quality of the water they are swimming in, and that they do not jeopardize their health. The European Environment Agency (EEA) and the European Commission hope that this year's bathing water report will encourage Europeans to enjoy bathing areas near them, and assist them in planning their trips further afield.
This report provides a comprehensive overview of the quality of bathing waters in the Member States of the European Union in the 2013 bathing season. It thereby gives an indication of the areas where the quality of bathing is expected to be good if not excellent during 2014. The report also shows the evolution of bathing water quality from 1990 to 2013.
Of the more than 22 000 bathing areas monitored throughout Europe in 2013, more than two thirds were in coastal waters and the rest were in rivers and lakes (inland waters). In the 2013 bathing season, the monitoring of bathing sites has been adjusted to the provisions in the EU's new bathing water directive (Directive 2006/7/EC). The sampling of water quality in most of the bathing water sites meets the frequency standards (this involves a pre-season sample of the water quality, followed up by monthly samples thereafter). Bathing water monitoring data was provided by all EU-28 Member States as well as by Switzerland and Albania.
As regards assessment, the provisions in the new Bathing Water Directive have been applied in 24 European countries (23 EU Member States and Switzerland). This involved taking data from four years of monitoring to make the 2013 assessment. For the remaining six countries, the 2013 assessment has been carried out under a set of transitional rules that do not yet meet all the requirements of the new Directive using the results from the 2013 monitoring (1).
In 2013, the quality of 94.7 % of all bathing waters in the EU-28 met the minimum water quality standards set by the Bathing Water Directive. Bathing water quality increased by 0.5 percentage points compared with results from 2012. The proportion of bathing waters with excellent quality (or complying with the most strict 'guide' values) increased by 3.6 percentage points compared to 2012, reaching 82.6 %.
Since 2011, a significant amount of management measures have been implemented on bathing waters locations with poor quality which has resulted in improving the quality at some beaches and closing other bathing waters. The share of waters with poor quality or non-compliant bathing waters in 2013 was 2.0 % representing a 0.2 percentage point increase from 2012.
In 2013, 96.8 % of all coastal waters in the EU achieved the minimum quality standards established by the EU directives which represent a slight increase compared to 2012. The share of bathing waters with excellent quality in 2013 reached 85.2 %. This is a significant improvement in comparison with year 2012.
The majority of inland bathing water locations are situated on lakes. In 2013, 89.7 % of inland bathing waters in the European Union had at least sufficient quality. This is a 1.2 percentage point decrease from 2012. The share of inland bathing waters with poor quality is low and has slightly increased for by 0.1 percentage points (in comparison with the 2012 season). On the other hand, it was a remarkable 4.6 percentage points increase of waters that achieved excellent quality class in 2013.
Nine countries had all their bathing waters classified as compliant with at least mandatory values (i.e. no poor quality or non-compliant bathing sites were found): Cyprus, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia and Switzerland. Five countries reached compliance levels with excellent quality or guide values above 90 %. They were: Cyprus (100 %), Luxembourg (100 %), Malta (98.9 %), Croatia (94.9 %), and Greece (93.2 %). However, in Croatia and Greece there are also some bathing waters with poor or non-compliant bathing waters (three bathing waters in Croatia and five in Greece).
The highest rates of poor or non-compliant bathing waters have been found in Estonia (5.7 %), the Netherlands (5.1 %), Belgium (3.5 %), France (3.5 %), Spain (3.3 %) and Ireland (3.0 %). In Albania, which reported for the first time in 2013, 8.2 % of the bathing waters were classified as non-compliant bathing. This rate of non-compliance is comparable to when other countries reported their bathing water quality for the first time.