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 the Member States. Bathing water quality in Europe remains high. The minimum water quality standards, determined primarily by two distinct bacteria values, are met at 93% of sites.
The share of excellent sites grew continuously from the adoption of the Directive until 2015, when it stabilised at more than 80%. In 2020, it was 82.8% across Europe.
In six European countries, 3 % or more of bathing waters were of poor quality: Albania (seven bathing waters or 5.9 %), Estonia (three bathing waters or 5.6 %), Hungary (10 bathing waters or 3.9 %), Ireland (five bathing waters or 3.4 %), the Netherlands (24 bathing waters or 3.3 %) and Slovakia (one bathing water or 3.1 %). In Albania, the number of poor bathing sites dropped significantly since 2015, when 31 bathing water sites (or 39.1 %) were assessed as poor. This improvement can be linked to the construction of five waste water treatment plants in Albania 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 2020 story map.
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What are the bathing waters and why are they important?
A bathing water is 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. This does not include swimming and spa pools, confined waters subject to treatment or used for therapeutic purposes, artificially created confined waters separated from surface water and groundwater.
There are more than 22 thousand officially identified bathing waters in Europe. All countries of the EU identify at least some monitoring sites, proving that this is one of the most widespread uses of water for recreation purposes. While a larger share of bathing water sites (about 15 thousand) are distributed along the coastline of all European seas, there are also about 6 thousand sites at lakes, but only a smaller share (around one thousand) sites on rivers.
Number of coastal, inland bathing waters compared to number of reporting countries
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 most recent report on Bathing water management in Europe: Successes and challenges addresses quality aspects other than bacteria, including the future challenges.
There are also activities in implementing alternative monitoring methods. The European Joint Research Centre (JRC) and its European Microbiology Expert Group (EMEG) explore the implementation of alternative methods for assessing microbiological bathing water.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has been active in analysing and recommending scientific, analytical, and epidemiological developments relevant to the bathing waters (see publication).