"Streamlined" bathing water directive planned

European Commission publishes communication on "thorough" revision of 25-year-old law

The European Commission officially launched a second attempt to revise the 1976 EU bathing water directive yesterday, publishing a communication for consultation that could be followed by a draft directive this summer.

The communication alludes to the failure of a 1994 proposal to update the directive, which foundered in part because EU member states opposed tightening quality standards (ENDS Daily 15 October 1998). The recent adoption of the EU water framework directive (ENDS Daily 4 January) makes revision of the bathing water directive timely, says the communication. It also notes that a recent slowdown in member states' rate of improvement in bathing water quality adds urgency (ENDS Daily 30 May 2000).

Among changes being proposed are alterations to quality parameters, including dropping existing physical-chemical parameters on the grounds that these will be addressed under the water framework directive. Microbiological parameters would also evolve. Instead of the current system of three parameters being monitored against two standards there would be just two parameters - one for coastal waters and one for fresh waters - and just one quality standard for each. Quality standards would simultaneously become "more ambitious, but not necessarily more difficult to meet," a Commission official said.

The communication also suggests ways to ensure better long-term management of bathing waters. It proposes supplementing the existing system of sampling during the bathing season with compulsory development of a "beach profile" quantifying and mapping potential sources of pollution. This would allow for a more flexible approach to sampling, it says. For example, beaches susceptible to pollution could be monitored more often than others.

Where water quality is impaired, the new rules would also require action to be taken by specific deadlines. Under the current directive, non-compliance does not automatically lead to a prescribed course of action. Definition of areas that should be categorised as bathing waters, as well as a specific definition of the bathing season, are also set out to ensure member states do not interpret the terms too loosely (ENDS Daily 26 May 2000).

The communication proposes two new action requirements: the introduction of "instant" indicators, such as divergence from normal pH and turbidity, as tools to assess quickly whether microbiological quality may be compromised; and development of a protocol for algae and macrophyte blooms.

Other key elements include increasing the amount of information authorities must provide to the public and creating a management committee to enable the directive to be regularly updated.

Follow Up:
European Commission, tel: +32 2 299 1111, and the communication.

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