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Bathing water quality

Indicator Assessment Created 19 May 2005 Published 29 Nov 2005 Last modified 03 Sep 2015, 07:17 PM
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Topics: , ,
Indicator codes: CSI 022 , WAT 004

Key messages

The quality of water at designated bathing beaches in Europe (coastal and inland) has improved throughout the 1990s and early 2000s. In 2003, 97% of coastal bathing waters and 92% of inland bathing waters complied with the mandatory standards.

Is bathing water quality improving?

Percentage of EU coastal bathing waters complying with mandatory standards and meeting guide levels of the bathing waters directive for the year 2003 by country

Note: N/A

Data source:

DG Environment from annual Member State's reports

Downloads and more info

Percentage of EU inland bathing waters complying with mandatory standards and meeting guide levels of the bathing waters directive for the year 2003 by country

Note: N/A

Data source:

DG Environment from annual Member State's reports

Downloads and more info

Percentage compliance of EU coastal and inland bathing waters with mandatory standards of the bathing water directive, 1992 to 2003 for EU-15

Note: 1992 to 1994, 12 EU Member States, 1995/96, 14 EU Member States, 1997 onwards, 15 EU Member States

Data source:

DG Environment from annual Member State s reports

Downloads and more info

Percentage of EU coastal and inland bathing waters meeting the non-mandatory guide levels of the bathing water directive, 1992 to 2003 for EU-15.

Note: 1992 to 1994, 12 EU Member States, 1995/96, 14 EU Member States, 1997 onwards, 15 EU Member States

Data source:

DG Environment from annual Member State s reports

Downloads and more info

The quality of EU bathing waters in terms of compliance with the mandatory standards laid down in the Bathing Waters Directive has improved, but at a slower rate than initially envisaged. The original target of the 1975 Directive was for Member States to comply with standards by the end of 1985. This was not achieved, and even by 2003 not all bathing waters were in compliance. Member States have invested significant amounts of money to achieve the prescribed standards. The implementation of the Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive has also contributed significantly to the general improvement of surface water quality including bathing waters.  However, in some cases the installation of sewage treatment works did not result in 100 % compliance with bathing water quality standards because of diffuse pollution which still remains a source of microbiological and other contamination (e.g. Morecambe Bay, UK; Jones et al 1999).

In addition, for some of the parameters listed in the directive a robust, analytical methodology has not been yet developed (e.g. for monitoring viruses). Therefore compliance with the mandatory standards does not necessarily mean that there is no risk to human health. In fact, a number of studies have shown that the concentration of faecal streptococci in bathing water is a more useful indication of the likelihood of illness than faecal coliforms (e.g. Cabelli, 1983 and Kay et al., 1994). There is a guide value in the directive for faecal streptococci (100 per 100ml) but Kay et al. (1994) found there was a significantly increased risk of gastroenteritis when faecal streptococci count was greater than 40ml per 100ml. That means that reaching the guide value does not necessarily protect human health. The proposed revised Bathing Water Directive (COM (2002)581) is expected to introduce a higher health standard than the old directive thereby reducing likelihood of illness.

Despite the significant improvement in bathing water quality, 11% of Europe's coastal bathing waters and 32% of Europe' s inland bathing beaches still did not meet (non-mandatory and more ambitious) guide values in 2003 despite the fact that the bathing water directive was adopted over 25 years ago (Fig. 2).

The level of achievement of (non-mandatory) guide levels has been much lower than that for the mandatory standards. This is probably because the achievement of the guide levels would entail considerably more expenditure by Member States for sewage treatment works and the control of diffuse pollution sources.

Two countries (the Netherlands and Belgium) achieved 100 % compliance with mandatory standards in their coastal bathing waters in 2003. The worst performance in terms of coastal waters and mandatory standards was found in Finland with 93.2 % compliant bathing waters in 2003 (Fig. 3). In contrast to its 100 % compliance with mandatory standards, only 15.4 % of Belgium's coastal bathing water met the guide levels, being the lowest of the EU countries. In general, the guide levels were met in far fewer coastal bathing waters in comparison to mandatory standards.
Three countries, i.e. Ireland, Greece and the UK, achieved 100 % compliance with mandatory standards in their inland bathing waters in 2003 (Fig. 4). It should, however, be noted that these countries have designated the least number of inland bathing waters in the EU (9, 4 and 11, respectively) compared with Germany (1 572) and France (1 405) which have designated the highest number. Italy had the lowest compliance rate (70.6 %) for its inland bathing waters in 2003.  As with coastal waters, in general, the guide levels were met in far fewer inland bathing waters as compared to mandatory standards, with Portugal having only 10.9 % of its inland bathing waters meeting the guide levels.

In 2003, the European Commission initiated infringement proceedings against nine of the EU-15 Member States (Belgium, Denmark, Germany, Spain, France, Ireland, Netherlands, Portugal, and Sweden) for non-compliance with aspects of the Bathing Waters Directive. Common reasons were non-compliance with standards and insufficient sampling. The Commission also noted that the number of inland UK bathing waters is low by comparison with most other Member States.

References

Cabelli, V. 1983. Health effects criteria for marine recreational waters. EPA-600/1-80-031. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Health Effects Laboratory, Research. Triangle Park, NC.

Jones, K. and Obiri-Danso, K. (1999) Non-compliance of beaches with the EU directives of bathing water quality: Evidence of non-point sources in Morecambe Bay Journal of Applied Microbiology Symposium Supplement, Vol 85, issue 28 pp 101S-107S.

Kay, D., Fleischer, J. M., Salomon, R. L., Jones, F., Wyer, M. D., Goodfree, A. F., Zelenauch-Jacquotte, Z. and Shore, R. (1994).  Predicting likelihood of gastro-enteritis from sea bathing results from randomised exposure. Lancet 344, pp 905-909.

http://europa.eu.int/water/water-bathing/report/eu.html

 

 

Indicator specification and metadata

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

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

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.

Data sources

Generic metadata

Topics:

Water Water (Primary topic)

Coasts and seas Coasts and seas

Tags:
water | csi
DPSIR: State
Typology: Performance indicator (Type B - Does it matter?)
Indicator codes
  • CSI 022
  • WAT 004
Geographic coverage:
Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, United Kingdom

Contacts and ownership

EEA Contact Info

Peter Kristensen

Ownership

EEA Management Plan

2010 (note: EEA internal system)

Dates

Frequency of updates

Updates are scheduled once per year
Filed under: ,
European Environment Agency (EEA)
Kongens Nytorv 6
1050 Copenhagen K
Denmark
Phone: +45 3336 7100