Bathing water quality on top of the agenda of EU institutions: European report released prior to the launch of a European consultation


With the easing of the lockdown, the clear skies and sun everywhere in Europe mark the start of a new summer season which is likely to be “special”. Swimming, windsurfing, surfing... visitors and locals willing to get back to their summer routine will soon flock to the beaches, lakes and rivers. What about the water quality of these bathing and recreational sites? Are they safe enough? What progress has been made in terms of management, information or monitoring on the eve of the revision of the EU Bathing Water Directive?

Latest EU assessment has been released 

On World Oceans Day, the European Commission (EC) and the European Environment Agency (EEA) published their annual report on the quality of coastal and inland bathing waters in Europe. This report is part of the public information requirement introduced by the EU directive. In order to be informed about the quality of bathing water, the public can also have access to the results of the analyses directly on-site (during the summer season provided the site is listed as a bathing site) or at their local authorities ’offices, at the tourist office, but also on the EEA's website, or the websites of their national and local authorities.   

The European report released on Monday presents the classification of bathing areas resulting from the synthesis of water analyses from the 27 Member States, the United Kingdom, Albania and Switzerland in application of the European Directive on the monitoring and management of bathing water (Directive 2006/7/EC).   

For the 2019 season, 22,295 bathing areas have been monitored in Europe. This year again, the assessment shows bathing water quality remains high in Europe with 95% of the bathing sites complying with the minimum water quality standards with a quality that remains better for coastal waters compared to inland waters.

Bathing water monitoring: an obligation in Europe for more than 40 years  

The first European directive to require Member States to monitor the quality of their bathing waters was first adopted in 1976. Since then, the directive was revised once in 2006 and seeks to protect the health of bathers and to ensure that information is made available to the public.   

The quality of bathing water is assessed on the basis of microbiological analyses by detecting two faecal bacteria (Escherichia coli and enterococci) in marine and fresh waters. Bathing sites are monitored by means of samplings during the summer period from July to August for the vast majority of European sites (except for European outermost regions). The presence of large quantities of these bacteria in the environment is proof of pollution linked to anthropogenic activities. Sources of pollution are many but investigation and beach profiles show that wastewater and runoff from road and agriculture are significantly impacting human health, generally resulting in gastro-enteritis, skin problems, conjunctivitis or ear infections. The final classification of bathing waters of poor, sufficient, good or excellent quality is established based on the results of the samplings over the last 4 years.

Main take-aways 

From a bacteriological point of view on which the Directive bases its assessment, the quality of bathing water has improved in all European countries since the Directive came into force.   

 Surfrider Europe has analysed the assessment report published on 8 June, here are its main take-aways: 

  - More sites have been monitored in 2019 compared with 2018 with 164 new bathing areas identified in 2019 

    - The proportion of waters classified as of excellent quality has not changed since 2015 and remains at around 85%;  

    - Between 2018 and 2019, the share of poor-quality sites remains at 1.3% (corresponding to 289 sites in 2018 and 294 in 2019);  

    - The Top 5 countries with the best water quality remain the same as in 2018: Cyprus, Austria, Malta, Greece and Croatia;   

    - The 5 Europeans States lagging behind with the worst water quality are : Poland, Albania, Slovakia, Bulgaria and Estonia.  

 Proportion of bathing waters with excellent quality in European countries in 2019
Source : EEA 2020 assessment report on bathing water quality in Europe in 2019


Surfrider Europe calling on the directive’s revision this year 

The Commission will launch soon a public consultation on the EU Bathing Water directive. Surfrider will bring the voice of the Ocean Community to the European Commission and will call the Commission to revise the text.   

Extension of the monitoring period, of monitoring sites to include recreational sites, addition of new parameters to be controlled, better information and participation of the public ... are some of the demands that the association has started to make and will have to further defend in its advocacy efforts throughout the coming year.

In the coming weeks, a public consultation will be launched to allow for every EU citizen to express his or her views on this directive and its application in Europe. Let's not miss this opportunity to express ourselves! Stay tuned!  

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