Europes bathing waters
Wastewater Europe

Take a bow (or bath) Europe: your waters are cleaner than ever

Wednesday, 19 June 2019

Latest data from the European Environment Agency shows Europe’s bathing water quality continues to improve…

Bathing Water Directive proves policies can make a difference

Congratulations Europe, it’s time to take a bow (or celebratory swim) because collectively you have got your act together when it comes to improving the quality of your bathing waters.

Investments made after the Bathing Water Directive was introduced 40 years ago are paying dividends today: Europe’s bathing waters are cleaner than ever before.

Over 85 per cent of bathing sites across Europe are now rated as 'excellent' for quality and cleanliness.

Meanwhile, over 95 per cent now meet the minimum quality requirements under EU rules – that’s according to an annual report on the water quality of bathing areas across Europe.

Report methodology

Produced by the European Commission and the European Environment Agency (EEA), a total of 21,831 bathing sites were monitored across 28 EU member states. A further 300 bathing sites monitored in Albania and Switzerland were also included.

Four countries were highlighted in the report for having excellent water quality in 95 per cent of their bathing sites: Cyprus, Malta, Austria and Greece.

In 2018, 95.4 per cent of EU bathing sites met the minimum 'sufficient' quality requirement, and 85.1 per cent of bathing water sites met the Bathing Water Directive's most stringent 'excellent' quality standards.

On the other hand, three countries were flagged for having the highest number of poor quality bathing water sites: (89 bathing water sites or 1.6 per cent), France (54 sites or 1.6 per cent) and Spain (50 sites or 2.2 per cent)

Report methodology and poor water quality

The report data is generated from water samples taken from sites during the bathing season in 2018.

Samples are then analysed for two types of bacteria to indicate either pollution from wastewater treatment or livestock. The bathing water quality is then classified as 'excellent', 'good', 'sufficient' or 'poor'.

Despite the overall positive message, there are still multiple sites where water quality is considered poor.

Italy and France reported 20 and 19 bathing water sites, respectively, which changed from sufficient to poor quality. Furthermore, the Netherlands and Spain both had 10 sites with deteriorating quality and the UK a total of five sites.

Albania was flagged for having 10 bathing water sites classified as poor, which was a 2.5 per cent less than in 2017. This was a big improvement, however, considering the nation had 31 bathing sites assessed as poor in 2015.

The development is attributed to investment into five wastewater treatment plants constructed in the country, providing wastewater services for nearly 500,000 people.

The EEA said: “As the results show, there are still bathing water sites where water quality is poor. Management measures are primarily expected to be implemented at those bathing water sites where water quality is sufficient or poor.”

Contradictory findings & policy

Despite the seemingly positive news on bathing waters, it may come to some as a surprise. Last year a similar report from the EEA on total water quality in Europe found only 40 per cent of rivers, lakes, estuaries and coastal waters reached acceptable levels.

Separate to 'bathing waters', estuaries were classed as the most polluted zones, with 29 per cent of their water rated as 'good' quality.

However, overall the quality of Europe’s bathing waters has improved over the last 40 years following the introduction of the EU Bathing Water Directive.

“Effective monitoring and management introduced under the Directive led to a drastic reduction in pollutants released through untreated or partially treated urban wastewaters,” said Hans Bruyninckx, executive director of the European Environment Agency. “As a result, more and more bathing sites are not only meeting the minimum 'sufficient' quality standards but have reached 'excellent' quality. This shows how solid and well-implemented policies can make a difference.”

More information on the European Bathing Water Quality report can be found here.

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