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Bathing water quality

Legal Obligations under the EU Bathing Water Directive 2006/7/EC, a summary

waterWhilst the 1976 Bathing Water Directive has been a common European success story by improving the quality of our bathing waters, knowledge and experience in many fields has progressed since the 1970s. This is why the EU - as part of its Sixth Community Environment Action Programme 2002 - 2012 - revised and updated bathing water quality protection through the new 2006 Bathing Water Directive.

The "new" Bathing Water Directive 2006/7/EC replaces the former Directive 76/160/EC. It applies to surface waters that can be used for bathing except for swimming pools and spa pools, confined waters subject to treatment or used for therapeutic purposes and confined waters artificially separated from surface water and groundwater.

The new Directive is intended to

  • Be based on scientific knowledge on protecting health and the environment, as well as environmental management experience,
  • Provide better and earlier information of citizens about quality of their bathing waters, including logos,
  • Move from simple sampling and monitoring of bathing waters to bathing quality management, and
  • Be integrated into all other EU measures protecting the quality of all our waters (rivers, lakes, groundwaters and coastal waters) through the Water Framework Directive.

Two main parameters for analysis (intestinal enterococci and escherichia coli) are defined, instead of nineteen in the previous Directive. These parameters will be used to monitor and assess the quality of bathing waters and to classify them. Other parameters could be taken into account, such as the presence of cyanobacteria or microalgae.

waterMember States must monitor the bathing waters every year. The monitoring calendar should provide for at least four samples to be taken per season (except where the season is very short or where there are special geographic constraints). The sampling interval should not be longer than one month. Upon the monitoring results gathered in four years, Member States should assess the bathing waters at the end of every season. A shorter period may be acceptable in some cases.

The waters are classified according to their level of quality: poor, sufficient, good or excellent, linked to clear numerical quality standards for bacteriological quality. The category "sufficient" is the minimum quality threshold that all Member States should attain by the end of the 2015 season at the latest. Where water is classified as "poor", Member States should take certain management measures, e.g. banning bathing or posting a notice advising against it, providing information to the public, and suitable corrective measures.

Member States should also prepare a description of bathing waters and the potential impacts and threats to water quality, both as an information for citizens and as a management tool for the responsible authorities, through the so-called bathing water profiles. They could include in particular a description of the area concerned, any sources of pollution and the location of the water monitoring points. A guidance document based on best practices has been prepared with the cooperation of national experts. The bathing water profiles can cover one or more contiguous bathing waters and should be ready since March 2011.

Beyond the 1976 Bathing Water Directive, the new Directive ensures timely information of the public during the bathing season, with an obligation for Member States to disseminate actively and promptly information on bathing water quality. In particular, notices banning or advising against bathing should be rapidly and easily identifiable. The Commission adopted on the 27 May 2011 a decision establishing a symbol for information to the public on bathing water classification and any bathing prohibition.

Every year the Commission publishes a summary report on the quality of bathing water, based on the reports that the Member States should submit to it before the start of each bathing season. At present, the Commission and the European Environment Agency publish an EU-wide report covering all 28 Member States, both in a paper and online version. Reports on individual Member States, the so-called national country reports, are also available online. Want to have quick information on the status of your favourite bathing spot? Check out the EEAs interactive map and tabular viewers, also containing links to the bathing water profiles (where available)!