What's New in the EU: Bathing water quality remains high

Israeli legislators should go in the footsteps of their European counterparts and devise a similar plan to safeguard our beaches.

eu flag biz 88 (photo credit: )
eu flag biz 88
(photo credit: )
How much effort do Israeli authorities put into ensuring we have clean water to swim in? In Europe they make a big effort to protect public health and the environment by keeping their coastal and inland bathing waters free from pollution. Annual bathing water report The annual bathing water report presented this week by the European Commission reveals that the large majority of bathing sites across the European Union met EU hygiene standards in 2007. Some 95 percent of coastal bathing areas and 89% of bathing sites in rivers and lakes comply with the mandatory standards. The report provides useful water-quality information for the millions of people who visit Europe's beaches every summer. Water is a precious natural resource that should be protected and managed with care. Bathing waters can be coastal waters or inland waters (rivers and lakes). To be covered by the directive - including its mandatory quality standards, and its monitoring and information obligations - bathing must either be explicitly authorized, or where it is traditionally practiced by a large number of bathers and not prohibited. Swimming pools and waters for therapeutic purposes are not covered. Every year Member States are obliged to report on the quality of coastal and freshwater bathing areas located within their territory. Bathing areas are zones where swimming is explicitly authorized, or where it is traditionally practiced by a large number of bathers and not prohibited. Last year, 21,368 bathing areas were monitored, a slight increase from 2006. Some 14,551 of these were in coastal waters and 6,797 in inland freshwater areas. To determine their quality, bathing waters are tested against a number of physical, chemical and microbiological parameters for which the Bathing Water Directive sets out mandatory values. Member States must comply with the mandatory values but may adopt the stricter standards and non-binding guide values. In 1976, the EU passed a Bathing Water Directive that has been regarded as important to keeping a high quality of bathing waters. However, knowledge and experience in many fields has progressed since the 1970s. This is why the EU - as part of its Sixth Community Environment Action Program 2002-2012 - has revised and updated bathing water quality protection through the 2006 Bathing Water Directive. New bathing legislation comes into force New bathing water legislation was adopted in 2006 to ensure coherence with other EU water legislation, in particular the Water Framework Directive. It updates the parameters and the monitoring provisions with the latest scientific knowledge, and places greater emphasis on providing information to the public on the quality of bathing areas. Member States had until March 2008 to transpose the directive into national law, but Member States have until 2015 to implement it fully. Luxembourg decided to already apply the directive for the 2007 bathing season. The new Bathing Water Directive has its advantages. The new Bathing Water Directive is based on scientific knowledge on protecting health and the environment, as well as environmental management experience. Moreover, the new Bathing Water Directive provides better and earlier information for citizens about the quality of their bathing waters, and it moves from simple sampling and monitoring of bathing waters to bathing quality management. The new Bathing Water Directive also integrated into all other EU measures protecting the quality of all waters (rivers, lakes, ground waters and coastal waters) through the Water Framework Directive. De-listing down Overall, the number of bathing areas complying with the minimum quality requirements remained stable in 2007. For coastal bathing areas the proportion of sites complying with the mandatory standards decreased by nearly 1% to 95.2%. The number of coastal sites meeting the directive's more stringent but non-binding guide values decreased from 88.4% in 2006 to 86.1%, the second such decrease in as many years. The results for freshwater bathing sites remained stable. For the mandatory standards, the compliance rate in 2007 was 88.7%, compared to 88.8% in 2006. Compliance with the guide values decreased slightly from 63.9% in 2006 to 62.7% in 2007. In 2007, Member States removed 143 bathing sites from their national lists of sites, subject to the directive's standards. This 44% decrease in sites being de-listed is encouraging, but the European Commission insists that Member States must continue to tackle pollution problems at their source rather than resort to de-listing sites that do not comply with EU quality standards. In 2006, the European Commission opened infringement cases against 11 Member States over de-listing. Israeli legislators should go in the footsteps of their European counterparts and devise a similar plan to safeguard our beaches. [email protected] Ari Syrquin is the head of GSCB Law Firm's International Department.