Jul 28 2014
Sink or Swim
Each year millions of European Union (EU) citizens spend leisure time at a local beach or travel abroad for a holiday by the seaside. Only the hardier of us will be sampling the cooler waters of the North Sea on our East Coast, but we may still have an interest in the quality of our waters and whether they conform to European Union (EU) standards.
When travelling abroad many features help us to make choices about where we may go, but what we hope to take for granted is that the water will be clean and safe. This is not always the case! It is therefore vital that the quality of the water we and are our families are swimming in will not jeopardise our health.
Efforts by the EU to ensure clean and healthy bathing waters began in the 1970s and the first European Bathing Water Direcyive was adopted in 1975. This was designed to safeguard public health and protect the aquatic environment. Since 2009 the European Environment Agency (EEA) has been publishing an annual report on the quality of coastal and inland bathing areas throughout Europe. It is hoped that the Agency’s latest (2013) report will encourage Europeans to enjoy local bathing areas and help them with planning trips further afield.
Europe boasts countless beautiful beaches, rivers, lakes and lochs for a relaxing holiday and it is encouraging to see that according to the report, more than 94% met the minimum water quality standards set by the EU directives. Only 2% of bathing waters were found to have poor quality bathing water. The highest rates of poor or non-compliant bathing waters were found in Estonia, the Netherlands, Belgium, France, Spain and Ireland. Nine countries had no poor quality or non-compliant bathing sites at all. These were Cyprus, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Romania, Slovakia, and Slovenia.
Bathing water quality is not only essential for bathers’ health; it is also a strong indication of the overall state of our coastal zones and inland water bodies. All efforts to improve the quality of bathing water should therefore also be seen in the context of good ecological and environmental management. These are the aims of the EU Water Framework Directive and Marine Strategy Framework Directive. In addition many years of investment in better wastewater treatment under the Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive has meant that Europe’s bathing waters are much cleaner today than they were 30 years ago when large qualities of untreated or partially treated urban and industrial wastewater were discharged into bathing water areas.
Water is essential for human life, nature and the economy. The EU’s water policy has been successful in helping us to protect water resources and the quality of EU bathing sites. The extensive information gathered has served us well as a management tool for the responsible authorities but equally as a valuable source of information for Europe’s citizens.