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Bathing water quality

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Contents
 

Justification for indicator selection

The Bathing Water Directive (76/160/EEC) was designed to protect the public from accidental and chronic pollution incidents, which could cause illness from recreational water use. Examining compliance with the Directive therefore indicates the status of bathing water quality in terms of public health and also the effectiveness of the directive.

The Bathing Water Directive is one of the oldest pieces of environmental legislation in Europe and data on compliance goes back to the 1970s. Under the Directive Member States are required to designate coastal and inland bathing waters and to monitor the quality of the water throughout the bathing season.

New European legislation on bathing water was adopted in 2006. The ´New Bathing Water Directive´ updates the measures of legislation and simplifies its management and surveillance methods. The classification of bathing water quality is determined on the basis of a four-year trend instead of a single year’s result, as was the case for the Bathing Water Directive. Therefore, the procedure for assessing quality classes of bathing waters under the New Bathing Water Directive gives more reliable and realistic results than the assessment under the Bathing Water Directive.

The New Bathing Water Directive is based on scientific knowledge on protecting health and the environment, as well as environmental management experience. 

Scientific references:

Indicator definition

The indicator describes the changes over time in the quality of identified bathing waters (inland and coastal) in EU in terms of compliance with standards for parameters introduced by the EU Bathing Water Directive (76/160/EEC) , i.e. microbiological parameters (total coliforms and faecal coliforms) and physicochemical parameters (mineral oils, surface-active substances and phenols), as well as in terms of meeting standards for parameters introduced by the New Bathing Water Directive (2006/7/EC), i.e. microbiological parameters (intestinal enterococci and Escherichia coli). The indicator also shows bathing water quality results in the European countries and European sea regions for the 2012 bathing season. The indicator is based on the annual reports made by Member States, as well as Croatia and Switzerland to the European Commission. Croatia (Member State from July 2013) is not included in EU average up to the 2012 season.

Units

The data are expressed in terms of percentage of inland and coastal bathing waters complying with the mandatory values and guide values for microbiological and physicochemical parameters (assessment under the Bathing Water Directive (76/160/EEC) in previous years) and with the mandatory value for Escherichia coli and guide values for Escherichia coli and intestinal enterococci respectively (assessment during transition period). The data are also expressed in terms of percentage of inland and coastal bathing waters of excellent and at least sufficient quality (assessment under the New Bathing Water Directive (2006/7/EC)). In addition, Figure 1 and 2 show percentage of coastal and inland bathing waters per compliance category or quality class where all categories/classes are presented. The quality classes under the New Bathing Water Directive (2006/7/EC) are jointed with compliance categories under the Bathing Water Directive (76/160/EEC). Some bathing waters cannot be classified according to compliance or quality but are instead classified as closed, insufficiently sampled or not sampled, new or changes.  

Policy context and targets

Context description

Under the Bathing Water Directive (76/160/EEC) Member States are required to designate coastal and inland bathing waters and to monitor the quality of the water throughout the bathing season. Bathing waters are designated where bathing is authorised by the competent authority and also where bathing is traditionally practised by a large number of bathers. The bathing season is then determined according to the period when there are the largest number of bathers (May to September in most European countries). The quality of the water has to be monitored fortnightly during the bathing season and also two weeks before. The sampling frequency may be reduced by a factor of two if the water quality gets a good rating for two previous consecutive years (compliance with mandatory or guide values). Annex 1 of the directive lists a number of parameters to be monitored but the focus has been on bacteriological quality. The directive sets both minimum standards (mandatory) and optimum standards (guide). For compliance with the directive, 95% of the samples must comply with the mandatory standards. To be classified as achieving guide values, 80% of the samples must comply with the total and faecal coliform standards and 90% with the standards for the other parameters.

On 24 October 2002, the Commission adopted the proposal for a revised Directive of the European Parliament and of the Council concerning the Quality of Bathing Water COM(2002)581. The New Bathing Water Directive (2006/7/EC) entered into force on 24.3.2006. It applies to any element of surface water where the competent authority expects a large number of people to bathe and has not imposed a permanent bathing prohibition, or issued permanent advice against bathing, except for swimming pools and spa pools, confined waters subject to treatment or used for therapeutic purposes and artificially created confined waters separated from surface water and groundwater. The Directive makes use of only two bacteriological indicator parameters, but sets a higher health standard than the Directive 76/160/EC. Based on international epidemiological research and the experience with implementing the current Bathing Water and Water Framework Directives, the revised Directive provides long-term quality assessment and management methods in order to reduce both monitoring frequency and monitoring costs. It creates four quality categories for bathing waters - 'poor', 'sufficient', 'good' and 'excellent'. The classification of bathing water quality is determined on the basis of a four-year trend instead of a single year's result, as was the case for the Bathing Water Directive. Member States have until December 2014 to achieve full implementation of the New Bathing Water Directive. As such Member States could choose to report either under the Bathing Water Directive or the New Bathing Water Directive until the 2011 bathing season. From the 2012 bathing season reporting under the New Bathing Water Directive becomes obligatory since the first classification according to the requirements of this Directive shall be completed by the end of the 2015 bathing season (using data for the period 2012-2015). Member States must take one sample at each bathing place shortly before the start of the bathing season and continue sampling until the end of the season, with at least one sample per month for Escherichia coli and intestinal enterococci.

The New Bathing Water Directive lays down provisions for more sophisticated monitoring and classification of bathing water. It also provides for extensive public information and participation in line with the Århus Convention as well as for comprehensive and modern management measures:

• The Directive requires Member States to draw up a management plan for each site to minimise risks to bathers based on an assessment of the sources of contamination that are likely to affect it. Users of the site should be actively involved in developing the management plan. Where bathing sites have a history of poor water quality, preventive measures should be taken to close the bathing area when such conditions are forecasted. If the quality standards are not respected, remedial measures must be taken.
• Information on a bathing site’s quality classification, the results of water quality monitoring, the site’s management plan and other relevant information is to be made readily available to the public, both through displays at the site and through the media and internet.
• While the Directive 76/160/EEC requires regular monitoring of 19 pollutants or other parameters (for example water colour) the revised Directive reduces this list to just two microbiological indicators of faecal contamination, E. Coli and intestinal enterococci. This simplification reflects recognition that faecal matter, for instance due to inadequate sewage treatment and pollution from animal waste, is the primary health threat to bathers.
• The classification of water quality at a bathing site is determined on the basis of a four year trend instead of a single year’s result, as was the case for the Bathing Water Directive. This means that the classification is less susceptible to bad weather or one-off incidents. Where water quality is consistently good over a four year period the frequency of sampling may be reduced, thereby cutting costs. It provides for the assessment of water quality on the basis of the set of water quality data compiled during the bathing seasons.
• The Directive requires "bathing profiles" to be drawn up describing the characteristics of the bathing water and identifying sources of pollution. The presence of pollution may result in needing to regularly review the status of the bathing, ban bathing there if needed and inform the public.
• To ease the monitoring burden for Member States the Directive reduces monitoring frequencies if the quality of bathing areas proves to be constantly "good" or "excellent".

Targets

All bathing waters to comply with mandatory values in Bathing Water Directive (76/160/EEC).

Increase in number of bathing waters complying with guide values in Bathing Water Directive (76/160/EEC). 

All bathing waters are at least ‘sufficient’ by the end of the 2015 bathing season in New Bathing Water Directive (2006/7/EC). 

Increase the number of bathing waters classified as ‘excellent’ or ‘good’ in New Bathing Water Directive (2006/7/EC).

Related policy documents

No related policy documents have been specified

Key policy question

Is bathing water quality improving?

Methodology

Methodology for indicator calculation

Bathing Water Directive (76/160/EEC)

The parameters to be taken into account for assessment according to the assessment rules of the Directive 76/160/EEC are microbiological (1 Total coliforms, 2 Faecal coliforms) and physico-chemical (8 Mineral oils, 9 Surface-active substances reacting with methylene blue, 10 Phenols (phenol indices)). The assessment under this Directive was done up to the 2011 bathing season (three countries still reported and being assessed under this Directive) since reporting under the Directive 2006/7/EC becomes obligatory from the 2012 season on.

The results are classified in the following categories:

    • CI: Compliant with mandatory values of the Directive for the five parameters;
    • CG: Compliant with mandatory and more stringent guide values of the Directive for the five parameters;
    • NC: Not compliant with mandatory values of the Directive for the five parameters;
    • NF: Bathing waters that are not sufficiently sampled (frequency criteria not satisfied);
    • NS: Bathing waters that are not sampled due to external causes;
    • B: Banned or closed.

 

Assessment during the transition period - reporting under the New Bathing Water Directive (2006/7/EC) and assessment according to the limit values of the Bathing Water Directive (76/160/EEC)

Assessing bathing water quality under Directive 2006/7/EC requires a data set of four consecutive years. While those data are being compiled, the rules for transition period are applied. This means that the classification of bathing waters is defined on the basis of concentrations of intestinal enterococci and Escherichia coli reported under Directive 2006/7/EC. The limit values for the classification are taken from the Directive 76/160/EEC. The parameter intestinal enterococci is evaluated according to the guide value for the faecal streptococci parameter given in Directive 76/160/EEC. The parameter Escherichia coli is evaluated according to the mandatory and guide values for the parameter faecal coliforms given in Directive 76/160/EEC.

The results are classified in the following categories:

  • CI: Compliant with the mandatory value of the Directive 76/160/EEC for Escherichia coli and not compliant with the guide values of the Directive 76/160/EEC for Escherichia coli or intestinal enterococci;
  • CG: Compliant with the mandatory value of the Directive 76/160/EEC for Escherichia coli and the more stringent guide values for the Escherichia coli and intestinal enterococci; 
  • NC: Not compliant with the mandatory value of the Directive 76/160/EEC for Escherichia coli
  • NF: Bathing waters that are not sufficiently sampled (frequency criteria not satisfied);
  • NS: Bathing waters that are not sampled due to external causes;
  • B: Banned or closed.

 

The frequency of sampling is set out in Annex IV of the Directive 2006/7/EC. Including a sample to be taken shortly before the start of the bathing season, the minimum number of samples taken per bathing season is four. However, only three samples are sufficient when the bathing season does not exceed eight weeks or the region is subject to special geographical constraints. Sampling dates are to be distributed throughout the bathing season, with the interval between sampling dates never exceeding one month.

One pre-season sample should be available and the interval between sampling dates in 2012 should never exceed 35 days, provided that the next sampling is done according to the monitoring calendar.

The sampling frequency rules applied in previous years are described in annual European and national bathing water reports for previous seasons. The previous reports are available at the European Environment Agency’s bathing water website (http://www.eea.europa.eu/themes/water/status-and-monitoring/state-of-bathing-water).

New Bathing Water Directive (2006/7/EC)

When four consecutive years of samples of intestinal enterococci and Escherichia coli for bathing water are available, the assessment is done according to assessment rules of the Directive 2006/7/EC.

Coastal and inland bathing waters are classified as 'excellent', 'good', 'sufficient' and 'poor' quality. The assessment is based on a percentile evaluation and defines three different standards separately for inland and coastal bathing waters. The standards for excellent and good quality are based on a 95-percentile evaluation; the standards for sufficient quality are based on a 90-percentile evaluation. Bathing waters not meeting the standards for sufficient quality are classified as poor. Some bathing waters cannot be classified according to their quality but are instead classified as 'closed' (bathing water is closed temporarily or throughout the 2012 season and a complete set of data is not available), 'new' (bathing water is newly identified and classification not yet possible), 'insufficiently sampled' (a pre-season sample is missing, sampling frequency is not satisfied or a set of data is not complete) or 'changes' (bathing water is not new and classification not yet possible since a set of monitoring data is incomplete).

The frequency of sampling is set out in Annex IV of the Directive. Including a sample to be taken shortly before the start of the bathing season, the minimum number of samples taken per bathing season is four. However, only three samples are sufficient when the bathing season does not exceed eight weeks or the region is subject to special geographical constraints. Sampling dates are to be distributed throughout the bathing season, with the interval between sampling dates never exceeding one month.

The assessment provisions of the Directive 2006/7/EC are transformed into the following technical rules: a) one pre-season sample should be available; b) the interval between sampling dates in 2012 should never exceed 35 days, provided that the next sampling is done according to the monitoring calendar; c) the yearly number of samples in the previous years should be four or three if bathing season does not exceed eight weeks or the region is subject to special geographical constraints. Furthermore, the number of samples for the assessment period should be at least 16 or 12 if season duration is less than eight weeks or the region is subject to special geographical constraints.

Hungary grouped 54 % of the bathing waters (124 out of 232) into 44 groups for the 2012 bathing season. Therefore, the assessment of bathing water quality in 2012 is done by groups. The samples obtained during the season from any of the bathing waters in a group were treated as one set of samples for the group. The classification of bathing waters in a group is done on the basis of this sample set.

The sampling frequency rules applied in previous years are described in annual European and national bathing water reports for previous seasons. The previous reports are available at the European Environment Agency’s bathing water website (http://www.eea.europa.eu/themes/water/status-and-monitoring/state-of-bathing-water).

Methodology for gap filling

No gaps are filled.

Methodology references

Data specifications

EEA data references

Data sources in latest figures

Uncertainties

Methodology uncertainty

There are differences in how countries have interpreted and implemented the directive leading to differences in the representativeness of bathing waters included in terms of recreational water use.

Data sets uncertainty

The EU has expanded during the life of the Directive from 12 countries in 1992 to 28 at present. The time series is thus is not consistent in terms of geographic coverage. The new EU Member States have reported on the quality of their bathing waters since 2004 or 2005 (EU-10), 2007 (Bulgaria and Romania) and 2009 (Croatia). Croatia (Member State from July 2013) is not included in EU average up to the 2012 season. Switzerland has reported on the quality of their bathing waters since 2009 and Montenegro reported for 2010 and 2011. No allowance is made for differences between the years in the number of (EU) countries reporting, and the numbers of identified bathing waters.

Rationale uncertainty

Human enteric viruses are the most likely pathogens responsible for waterborne diseases from recreational water use but detection methods are complex and costly for routine monitoring, and so the main parameters analysed for compliance with the Directive are indicator organisms; total and faecal coliforms. Compliance with the mandatory standards and guide levels for these indicator organisms does not therefore guarantee that there is no risk to human health.

The Directive 2006/7/EC reduces the number of parameters from 19 to 2 key microbiological parameters, complemented by visual inspection such as algae bloom, and oil.The parameters used for setting the standards were reviewed and streamlined, focusing on the most robust microbiological indicators which are the most relevant for human health. Parameters are based on the latest scientific evidence.

The new parameters are the following:

  • Escherichia coli to replace the faecal coliforms parameter;
  • intestinal enterococci to replace the faecal streptococci parameter.

 Other microbiological parameters such as total coliforms and enteroviruses were removed because according to the latest scientific evidence they were not considered to be the best indicators for assessing bathing water quality. The choice of microbiological parameters is based on available scientific evidence provided by epidemiological studies conducted by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and health institutes in Germany, France and Netherlands.

Further work

Short term work

Work specified here requires to be completed within 1 year from now.

Long term work

Work specified here will require more than 1 year (from now) to be completed.

General metadata

Responsibility and ownership

EEA Contact Info

Peter Kristensen

Ownership

European Environment Agency (EEA)

Identification

Indicator code
CSI 022
Specification
Version id: 1
Primary theme: Water Water

Permalinks

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Frequency of updates

Updates are scheduled every 1 year in April-June (Q2)

Classification

DPSIR: State
Typology: Performance indicator (Type B - Does it matter?)

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