The Bathing Water Report 2000, released on 21 May, shows that last year, almost 97% of the 11,502 coastal bathing areas in the 15 EU nations respected the quality criteria set out in the EU’s Bathing Water Directive. For inland bathing areas, almost 94% of 4,338 assessed areas provided good quality bathing water, showing that the trend of improvement evident since the Commission began issuing annual reports continues, it says. In 1992, around 85% of 11,000 coastal waters had good quality bathing water while not even 50% of the 4,200 lakes and rivers monitored, had good water quality. The EC says that the difference in quality between coastal and freshwater beaches remains marked, although the gap is gradually closing year by year.

Overall the worst results were in Portugal, while Belgium and the Netherlands recorded some of the highest standards for bathing waters. Portugal could not repeat improvements made last year and presented slightly worse results for its coastal waters, with 92.2% reaching the Directive in 2000 compared with 93.9% in 1999, and also considerable deterioration in its fresh waters with 69% acceptable in 2000 compared with 78.4% in 1999.

Other countries recording some negative performances were the UK and Europe’s biggest coastal resort nation, Spain. The United Kingdom further improved its compliance rate for its coastal waters, reaching 94.4%, up from 91.5% in 1999, but for fresh waters, compliance dropped for the second consecutive year, from 100% compliance in 1998 and 90.9% in 1999, to only 81.8% in 2000. Spain follows the EU trend with marginal improvement for its coastal waters with 98.1% compliance, but continues to have considerable problems to improve the quality of its fresh waters with only 79.2% complying with the Directive. The European Commission is also to ask the European Court of Justice to impose a daily fine of €45,600 (£27,800) on Spain until it complies with the EU bathing water directive for its inland waters, following an assessment that the nation failed to act on a judgement that it had breached the directive

On the other hand, Belgium’s few coastal waters are in full compliance for the second consecutive year, being the only member state to reach 100% compliance for its few coastal beaches, but fresh water standards have worsened for the third consecutive year and now stand just above 90% compliance. The Netherlands has a very consistent record for its coastal waters keeping a 98.7% compliance rate and has considerably improved the quality of its freshwater bathing areas from 90.7% in 1999 to 96.2% in 2000.

Other big bathing resort nations besides Spain, Italy and Greece, both registered consistent results. Italy’s coastal water results were slightly poorer than last year, but it is one of the few member states with an equally high compliance rate for fresh and coastal waters, with 95.6% coastal compliance and 95.8% for fresh waters. Another major beach-going nation, France did not communicate any results due to industrial action.

Other findings were:

  • Denmark has managed to break the negative slide for its coastal waters and shows, after three consecutive years of decreased quality, achieving a 95.8% compliance rate in 2000);
  • Germany continues the positive trend for its coastal waters, with a further increase of about 3%, standing at 96,8%, but the quality of fresh waters remains about 92% compliance rate for the second consecutive year;
  • along with Greece, Luxembourg and Ireland show the most consistent records for the last three years, both for their coastal and fresh waters;
  • Austria is doing well and has compliance rate of 96.6% for its waters;
  • Finland and Sweden present considerable improvements in their compliance rates, both for fresh and coastal waters. Finland reaches a high 98.8% compliance for fresh and coastal waters. Sweden reaches 96% compliance for both types of water.

The assessment for the Directive on Bathing Water Quality is made on the basis of two microbiological parameters, which are indicators of faecal pollution, and on the basis of three physico-chemical parameters, which are so-called aesthetic parameters and does not set a common EU bathing season. The season is defined as the period during which large numbers of bathers are expected in the light of local custom.

The EC also recently launched a broad consultation exercise on the revision of the Directive as part of the ongoing streamlining of the European environmental water legislation. Some 125 participants, representing member states, water industry, regional and local authorities and non-governmental organisations, discussed issues related to monitoring, management actions, information provisions and the socio-economic context of bathing water management. The outcome of these discussions will be given due weight during the drafting of a revised Directive, which will be tabled towards the end of this year.

“The continuous improvement of bathing waters around Europe is very encouraging,” commented Environment Commissioner Margot Wallström. “Children, and adults alike, should be able to enjoy swimming without worrying about stomach infections from water contaminated by sewage. In the light of new scientific knowledge and management standards we have decided to revise the directive to ensure that the improvements in water quality continue.”

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