The bathing season is starting but is the water quality improving?


Sun, sand, vacation….there’s no doubt summer is back. Little by little, life guards regain their place high on their watch towers and parasols start to bloom on the beaches, lakes and rivers of Europe. Yet what about the water quality in which bathers and water sports enthusiasts have decided to spend their vacations? Is it safe? Can they dive in without risks to their health?

An anticipated report…

Every year, the European commission (EC) and the European Environment Agency (EEA) publish their report on the quality of coastal and inland bathing waters in Europe. This report summarizes the annual reports of the 28 Member States (plus Albania and Switzerland).

For the 2018 season, no less than 22,000 bathing waters were sampled. This year, the EC and the EEA highlight a general trend towards improved water quality in Europe with 85.1% of bathing sites classified as "Excellent Quality".

Regulated surveillance

Sanitary surveillance of bathing water quality has been regulated by a European Directive since 1976 and was revised in 2006. The text aims to protect users and bather’s health through bacteriological monitoring of water combined with qualitative information to the public.

The samples are tested for bacteria of fecal origin (Escherichia coli and enterococci) in bathing waters. The presence of large quantities of these bacteria in the environment indicate pollution caused by wastewater and/or livestock and can affect human health (gastroenteritis, ear infections, conjunctivitis, etc.).

Trends and analysis

Based on the parameters monitored, it is accurate to state that bathing water quality has improved on a European level. After analyzing the report released on June 6th, here are the important points to note:

  • Italy, France and Germany collectively account for half of the official testing sites, with more than 11,000 samples listed
  • In Italy and Spain, bathing water of inadequate quality has increased from 79 to 89 and from 38 to 50 respectively;
  • A significant increase of 445 new bathing areas were identified in 2018, including 229 just for Poland;
  • An overall decrease in insufficient water quality between 2017 and 2018 from 294 to 182 sites;
  • A decrease in the number of beaches recorded for France from 3379 to 3351 between 2017 and 2018, despite a general european upward trend (+330 between 2017 and 2018);
  • 13 countries have excellent water quality (Cyprus, Malta, Austria...) above the European average (85.1%) and 17 countries are below (Romania, Bulgaria and Poland...);
  • A call for a new regulatory directive imposed on Member States where the quality of bathing water is deemed less than ‘good’, for example ‘insufficient’ or ‘sufficient’.

Citizen information

For information about the quality of bathing water, the public can access the results of the analyzes directly on the bathing site (in season and if the beach is referenced), in the town hall, at the office of tourism and also on the EEA’s European website, on national sites  or more locally on the municipality’s website.

Note that applications developed locally by administrators exist also, allowing users access to ‘near real time’ information on the quality of bathing water. The development of such tools promotes better active management and keeps users updated on the state of bathing water through notifications/alerts on their smartphones.

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