EU bathing water quality improves in 1997

Commission report shows big improvement for freshwaters, less change in coastal waters

Water quality at designated freshwater bathing areas around the EU improved markedly from 1996 to 1997, the European Commission said today in its latest annual survey of bathing water quality. However, environment commissioner Ritt Bjerregaard has given a muted welcome to the improvement, stressing that more still needs to be done to comply with the 1976 bathing water directive.

An improvement in the monitoring and quality of fresh waters is the high point of the 1997 bathing season. Last year's bathing water report, covering the 1996 season, revealed that one-third of freshwater bathing waters were insufficiently monitored or did not meet the minimum quality requirements. In the 1997 bathing season, this figure has fallen to one-fifth. The proportion of insufficiently sampled freshwater beaches has shown a bigger proportional improvement still, down from 21% in 1996 to just under 8% in 1997.

Ms Bjerregaard today welcomed the improvement, which she said followed "my repeated plea for more attention," but stressed that more needed to be done. The proportion of freshwater beaches being insufficiently monitored was "still a very high number," she said, while "the overall quality of inland bathing waters in Europe is still far from acceptable."

Progress on coastal bathing waters in 1997 was much less pronounced, today's report shows. Compliance with minimum quality requirements under the 1976 bathing water directive nudged above 90% from just below this figure in 1996. This "confirms a positive trend started some two years ago," Ms Bjerregaard commented, but represents "little improvement on a yearly basis".

The commissioner also expressed disappointment that only 80% of bathing beaches met the bathing water directive's more stringent but non-binding guide values. More should have been achieved over 20 years after the adoption of the directive, she indicated in a statement accompanying today's report.

At the national level, Germany and France have been credited with making "substantial improvements" in monitoring of coastal bathing waters, while Germany has made "some remarkable improvements" in both sampling and compliance for freshwaters. The shift comes after Ms Bjerregaard issued warnings last year that Germany and France and several other countries should "prove" in 1997 that they were "capable of improving the situation".

Other member states show a more mixed record in the 1997 results. Close to the bottom of the league is Portugal, whose freshwater compliance rate is described as "worrying". Likewise, Greece, "although it only has four inland bathing zones, is going in the wrong direction". The UK has made "a small step back" on coastal waters "and needs to improve in compliance next year," the Commission reports.

Follow Up:
European Commission, tel: +32 2 295 1111; European Commission water homepage.

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