2020 European Bathing Water Quality Report: Surfrider Europe reacts and expresses its demands


As every year, the report on the quality of European bathing waters has just been published. Informing on the European classification of bathing areas, this study allows to assess the quality of marine, lake and river waters for the 2020 summer season. It also provides a better understanding of the issues related to bathing and the progress made in terms of monitoring and management in the event of bacteriological pollution. Although 83% of bathing sites are considered to be of excellent quality, Surfrider Europe cannot be fully satisfied with this: the association recently demanded, via its Manifesto for Healthy Waters, the extension of control zones and the broadening of analysis criteria to measure the quality of European waters as well as possible. More details.  

New annual report on bathing water quality: what about bacteriological pollution of European waters?

Published annually by the European Commission and the European Environment Agency, the new report on the quality of coastal and inland bathing waters informs European citizens about the quality of recreational waters in the 27 EU Member States, the UK, Albania and Switzerland. The text is a direct application of the European directive on the monitoring and management of bathing water (Directive 2006/7/EC) and classifies the various bathing sites according to four possibilities: Excellent, Good, Sufficient or Insufficient quality. The classification is based on the microbial quality of the bathing water by characterizing the presence of bacteria of fecal origin in the environment. Thus, the presence of high concentrations of enterococci and Escherichia coli provides information on the potential risks incurred in the event of contact and the impact on human health (gastroenteritis, conjunctivitis, otitis, skin reactions, etc.).   

2020: new trends and deciphering  

In order to guarantee the health of European bathers, 22,276 bathing areas were checked this year. While Surfrider Europe is pleased with the improvement in water quality in certain urban areas - in particular thanks to the efforts of several local authorities to open up new recreational areas in large cities to inspection - it can only note a certain stagnation over the last 5 years in the evolution of water quality, particularly those classified as Excellent quality. Surfrider Europe is even concerned about the ranking of the various Member States, where 17 of the 30 countries concerned are below the European average, a ranking that is almost identical to that of 2019.

Thus, France, 19th in 2019, stagnates at the same place for the 2020 ranking (but with, this year, less good statistics: 79.5% of sites were classified as excellent quality in 2019 against 77.5% in 2020) while the top 5 remains unchanged (Cyprus, Greece, Malta, Austria and Croatia). Still lagging behind, countries such as Bulgaria, Estonia and Slovakia have a lot of room for maneuver with only 60% of bathing sites classified as excellent quality. 

 Results distorted by the lack of evaluation criteria: let's make our demands heard!   

As you will have understood, these "83%", at first sight excellent, must be put into perspective. It is in this context that Surfrider Europe expressed, during a conference organized on 3 June, its demands grouped within the Manifesto #HealthyWaters. It emphasizes that, to date, only bacteriological parameters are considered in European regulations to characterize the quality of bathing waters: neither the quantity of aquatic waste, nor "algal blooms" and even fewer chemical pollutants are quantified to participate in the establishment of the classification. The association reminds us that, in addition to bathing sites, there are many water sports areas (surfing, paddling, windsurfing, etc.) which must be monitored in their own right. Like bathing sites, these areas are frequented throughout the year and often by a larger number of people than some beaches.

In the same vein, Surfrider Europe believes that year-round monitoring would not only inform sea users about the quality of their recreational waters, but also allow managers to have a "complete" vision of the quality of their coastal waters rather than focusing on two months of the year! Let's not forget the citizen's voice and encourage decision makers and politicians to consult their constituents in order to have a representative public participation! The association alerts all stakeholders and asks for the integration of these demands in the Bathing Water Quality Directive, which is due to be revised in 2023.  

These demands are also in line with the European Commission's action plan "Towards zero pollution of water, air and soil" by 2030. Such a desire presupposes that all types of pollution impacting on citizens' health, beyond bacteriological pollution alone, are assessed. Two out of five Europeans consider the pollution of aquatic environments as one of their major environmental and health concerns; Surfrider Europe is therefore certain that many of them will respond to the European Commission's next public consultation with a view to revising the European directive on the quality of bathing water. Do the same! This is no longer the time for discussions, let's not wait another 15 years to act! Decision-makers have the opportunity to move the lines and take courageous and committed positions to ensure healthy waters and safety for all European water users!

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