The Bathing Water Directive (2006/7/EC ) is the legal instrument for managing environment and reducing health risk at bathing in natural waters. Its aim is to protect human health and preserve, protect, and improve the quality of the environment.
Member States are obliged to monitor, report and disseminate actively and promptly information on bathing water quality. An officially recognised bathing water, implies sound management of its use, quality, and pressures. The monitoring of bathing water primarily focuses on the two types of bacteria (Escherichia coli and intestinal enterococci) that indicate pollution from sewage and livestock breeding. Polluted water can have impacts on human health, causing stomach upsets and diarrhoea if swallowed.
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Status of Bathing water in Europe
Each year, the Commission and the European Environment Agency publish an on-line European bathing water quality assessment based on the data provided by EU Member States, Albania and Switzerland. Bathing water quality in Europe remains high. The minimum water quality standards, determined primarily by two distinct bacteria values, are met at 95.8% of European bathing waters.
The share of excellent sites grew continuously from the adoption of the Directive until 2015, when it stabilised at more than 80%. In 2021, it was 85.6% across Europe.
Out of 21,973 bathing water sites in Europe in 2022, 85.6% were of excellent quality (Figure 1). In four countries — Cyprus, Austria, Greece and Croatia — 95% or more of bathing water sites were of excellent quality. Moreover, in Malta, Bulgaria, Romania, Slovenia and Luxembourg all bathing water sites assessed met at least the minimum standard of sufficient quality in 2022. However, in four countries — Estonia, Hungary, Slovakia and Poland — less than 70% of bathing water sites were of excellent quality
Bathing water quality was poor at 3% or more of sites in only two EU countries: the Netherlands (with 25 bathing water sites, 21 of which are in lakes, or 3.4% of the total being of poor quality) and Sweden (with 19 bathing water sites or 4.1% being of poor quality). Meanwhile, in Albania, the number of poor-quality bathing water sites has dropped significantly since 2015, when 31 bathing water sites (39.1%) were rated as poor. In 2022, Albania had only eight poor-quality bathing water sites (6.7%), which could be attributed to the construction of several wastewater treatment plants in recent years.
Bathing water quality is linked to the implementation of urban waste water treatment, as pollution is frequently linked to untreated waste water.
For more insight into this topic go to the latest European bathing water quality in 2022 briefing.
If you want to learn more
In addition to an annual assessment of the state of European bathing waters, the European Environment Agency (EEA) also produces more in-depth, background-oriented reports on bathing water management and quality. The report on Bathing water management in Europe: Successes and challenges addresses quality aspects other than bacteria, including the future challenges while Benefits of bathing waters in European cities report highlights the socio-economic benefits of clean and safe urban bathing waters.
There are also activities in implementing alternative monitoring methods. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has been active in analysing and recommending scientific, analytical, and epidemiological developments relevant to the bathing waters (see publication).