Clean Water at Most EU Beaches

94 % of bathing water in the European Union now meets the minimum quality standards. The latest EU bathing water report shows that water quality at Europe’s most popular summer destinations was generally good – Spain, Italy and Portugal had more than 80 % of sites with excellent water quality.

In Ireland, 97% of the bathing waters met the mandatory water quality in 2012, a slight decrease compared to 2011, which the Environmental Protection Agency said was due to last year’s record wet summer. Four of the country’s 136 popular swimming areas were given a poor grade after failing to meet basic standards – Fountainstown in Cork, Rush in north Dublin, Ballyheigue in Kerry and Clifden in Galway.

A total of 136 bathing waters were monitored in Ireland during the 2012 bathing season, of which 127 were coastal (121) or transitional bathing waters (six) and nine were inland bathing waters (0 on rivers; nine on lakes).

The full EU report shows that water quality at Europe’s was generally very good. Cyprus and Luxembourg top the ratings with all listed bathing sites achieving excellent water quality. Eight other countries have excellent quality values above the EU average including some of Europe’s most popular summer destinations: Malta (97 %), Croatia (95 %), Greece (93 %), Germany (88 %), Portugal (87 %), Italy (85 %), Finland (83 %) and Spain (83 %).

Every year, the European Environment Agency (EEA) compiles bathing water data gathered by local authorities at more than 22 000 sites across the 27 European Union Member States, Croatia and Switzerland, and measuring levels of bacteria from sewage and livestock. More than two thirds of sites are coastal beaches, with rivers and lakes making up the remainder.

Each annual report is based on data from the previous bathing season, so this year’s report is a compilation of data gathered in summer 2012. 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 United Kingdom (6 %). Some of these beaches had to be closed during the 2012 season.

In general, coastal bathing sites score highly, with more than 95 % 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.

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 %.

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