Good news if you're planning a beach holiday in Europe this summer: 92.1 % of bathing waters in the European Union now meet the minimum water quality standards set by the Bathing Water Directive. This includes the Serpentine Lake in London, which will host several Olympics events, including the Open Water Marathon Swim and the swimming section of the triathlon.
The results are from the latest annual Bathing Water Report of European Environment Agency (EEA) and the European Commission, which describes water quality in more than 22,000 bathing sites at beaches, rivers and lakes acrossEuropelast year.
Environment Commissioner Janez Potočnik said: “I am pleased to note that the quality of Europe's bathing waters generally remains high, and has improved since last year. A clear majority of Europeans are concerned about water quality issues, and want more information on this. We must therefore continue our work to ensure our waters are appropriate for all legitimate uses – from bathing to drinking - and that the overall aquatic ecosystem is in good health.”
Professor Jacqueline McGlade, EEA Executive Director, said: “The quality of water at beaches and other bathing spots is one of the most important environmental concerns of European citizens. But in several countries there is still a problem with pollution from agriculture and sewage, so we need to see more efforts to ensure safe and clean water for the public.”
The report found that 77.1 % of sites had excellent quality, i.e. complying with the most stringent guide values, an improvement of 3.5 percentage points on last year's data. Some 93.1 % of coastal bathing waters were classified as ‘sufficient’, or complying with the less stringent mandatory values – a 1 % increase. Less than 2 % of bathing waters were non-compliant.
Cyprus, Croatia, Malta and Greece had excellent reports on their bathing water sites, all with more than 90 % of bathing water sites meeting the most stringent guide values (excellent quality), and the remainder complying with the mandatory values. At the opposite end of the scale, the Netherlands, Bulgaria, Latvia, Luxemburg and Belgium had relatively low proportions of sites meeting the strict guide values, especially as regards inland waters.
Water quality at Europe's most popular summer destinations was generally good – with more than 90 % of bathing water sites meeting the mandatory values. Spain,Italy and Portugal had more than 80 % of sites with excellent water quality.
The overall quality of bathing waters in the EU has markedly improved since 1990. The number of coastal bathing waters not complying with the Bathing Water Directive’s provisions fell from 9.2 % of sites in 1990 to 1.5 % in 2011. The number of inland bathing areas not complying with mandatory values decreased from 11.9 % in 1990 to 2.4 % in 2011, which is among the lowest percentages to date.
Bathing water in Europe needs to comply with standards set in the 2006 Bathing Water Directive, which must be implemented by December 2014. The EU publishes an annual summary report on the quality of bathing water, based on reports that the Member States should submit before the end of the previous year. In this year's report, all 27 Member States as well as Croatia, Montenegro and Switzerland monitored and reported bathing water quality, most of them according to the new provisions.
Two thirds of bathing sites were in coastal waters and the rest in rivers and lakes. The largest number of coastal bathing waters can be found inItaly ,Greece, France and Spain, while Germany and France have the highest number of inland bathing waters.
Laboratories analysed levels of certain types of bacteria, including intestinal enterococci and Escherichia coli bacteria, which may indicate the presence of pollution, mainly from sewage or livestock waste. Sites are classified as compliant with mandatory values, compliant with the more stringent guidelines, or non-compliant.
European citizens can find out about the water quality at their favourite swimming spot by checking the Water Information System for Europe (WISE). The site allows users to download data and check interactive maps. People can also report the state of their local water using the Eye on Earth website.