Released yesterday, the European Environment Agency’s (EA) latest data on EU bathing waters also showed that water quality is “excellent” at 78% of sites and almost 2% more sites meet the minimum requirements compared to last year’s report.

The data, gathered by local authorities, looks at 22,000 sites across the 27 European Union Member States, Croatia and Switzerland, and measures levels of bacteria from sewage and livestock. More than two thirds of sites are coastal beaches, with rivers and lakes making up the remainder.

EEA executive director Jacqueline McGlade said: “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 Potocnik welcomed the news saying that the improvement is “encouraging”.

“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,” said Potocnik.

However, 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 UK (6%). Some of these beaches had to be closed during the 2012 season.

In general, coastal bathing sites score highly, with more than 9 % 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.

According to the EEA, 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%.

Last week, the Environment Agency (EA) announced that it had begun testing England’s bathing waters to improve water quality and protect England’s £3.6bn seaside tourist economy.

EA water quality sampling teams will be taking a total of 8,400 samples at over 400 bathing sites between now and September.

EA analysis suggests that 10% or around 55 of England’s beaches could be at risk of failing the new, tighter standards that come into force in 2015.

Leigh Stringer

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