Europe’s bathing waters continue to improve
Image © Tim Poultney
From northern fjords to subtropical beaches, Europe is rich in places to cool down in the summer.
Jacqueline McGlade, EEA Executive Director
Cyprus and Luxembourg stand out with all listed bathing sites achieving excellent water quality. Eight other countries have excellent quality values above the EU average: Malta (97 %), Croatia (95 %), Greece (93 %), Germany (88 %), Portugal (87 %), Italy (85 %), Finland (83 %) and Spain (83 %). This is an improvement on last year's results, continuing the positive trend since bathing water monitoring began under the Bathing Water Directive in 1990.
Environment Commissioner Janez Potočnik said: "It's encouraging to see the quality of European bathing waters continuing to improve. But more remains to be done to ensure all our waters are suitable for bathing and drinking and that our aquatic ecosystems are in good health. Water is a precious resource and we need to put into practice all the necessary measures to protect it in full."
Jacqueline McGlade, EEA Executive Director, said: “From northern fjords to subtropical beaches, Europe is rich in places to cool down in the summer. Today's report demonstrates that bathing water quality is generally very good, but there were still some sites with pollution problems, so we urge people to check the rating of their favourite swimming place.”
Every year, the European Environment Agency (EEA) compiles bathing water data gathered by local authorities at more than 22 000 sites across the 27 European Union Member States, Croatia and Switzerland, and measuring levels of bacteria from sewage and livestock. More than two thirds of sites are coastal beaches, with rivers and lakes making up the remainder.
Each annual report is based on data from the previous bathing season, so this year's bathing water report is a compilation of data gathered in summer 2012. In spite of the general improvement, this year's report reveals that almost 2 % of bathing sites at beaches, lakes and rivers have poor water quality. The highest proportions of non-compliant bathing sites were in Belgium (12 %), the Netherlands (7 %) and the United Kingdom (6 %). Some of these beaches had to be closed during the 2012 season.
In general, coastal bathing sites score highly, with more than 95 % of EU sites meeting the minimum requirements and 81 % rated as excellent. In comparison, 91 % of bathing waters in lakes and rivers score above the minimum threshold and 72 % have excellent quality.
Storm water overflows, caused when sewers cannot cope with heavy rains, are still a problem in some areas, although better water treatment and fewer raw sewage discharges into the environment have improved water quality. In the early 1990s, only around 60 % of sites had excellent quality water, while 78 % have excellent quality in this year's report. Over the same period, bathing water sites meeting at least the minimum standards have increased from 70 % to 94 %.
Bathing water in Europe needs to comply with standards set in the 2006 Bathing Water Directive, which updates and simplifies previous legislation. It has to be implemented by EU Member States by December 2014. The EU publishes an annual summary report on the quality of bathing water, based on reports that the Member States must submit before the end of the previous year. In this year's report, all 27 Member States as well as Croatia and Switzerland monitored and reported bathing water quality, most of them according to the new provisions.
To monitor the quality of bathing waters, laboratories analyse levels of certain types of bacteria, including intestinal enterococci and Escherichia coli bacteria. These may indicate the presence of pollution, mainly from sewage or livestock waste. Sites are classified as compliant with mandatory values, compliant with the more stringent guidelines, or non-compliant.
Citizens can find out about the water quality at their favourite swimming spot by visiting the EEA's Bathing Water Web Site. The site allows users to download data and check interactive maps. People can also report the state of their local water using the Eye on Earth website.