Bathing Water Testing

The whole subject of when Bathing Waters are tested, what for and what are the significance of the results is a very complex and legally hide-bound topic. We do not propose to cover more than the basics here.

What is the European Bathing Water Quality Directive ?

Back as long ago as the early 1970s the European Union (then the EEC) recognised the importance to both public safety and environmental protection of agreeing a common European standard for the quality of bathing waters, heavily used during summer months by bathers. In the result, after many years of wrangling and debate in the political forums, of the then EEC, in 1975 was created, the first European Bathing Waters Quality Directive (76/160/EEC) Now some 35 years old, but yet still the current legal basis upon which all EU bathing Waters Quality are tested and compared.

This directive has the force of law in the UK, and consequently in order to give it full internal effect the UK Government has passed a Statutory Instrument applying the standards and provisions of the Directive here in the UK. This law was issued back in 1991, The Bathing Waters (Classification) Regulations 1991, it having taken at least 15 years after the passing of the Directive, for our Government to get around to giving it such full effect here in Britain.

There has been much involved debate, both acedemic, scientific and political, regarding the effectiveness of the original standards and parameters (pollutants tested for) as set out in the 1976 Directive. Eventually, all of this led in 2006 to agreement on a completely new and replacement directive, called surprisingly enough The EU Bathing Waters Directive (2006/7/EC )

This new and replacement Directive has introduced several new positive innovations :

The revised Bathing Water Directive (2006/7/EC):

  • has a closer focus on the protection of public health
  • makes changes to the bathing water classifications system, bringing in more stringent standards
  • continues to apply only to bathing waters and does not include other recreational waters (for example surfing or sailing)
  • has a requirement to produce bathing water profiles , and introduces new requirements for public consultation and recognition in the formulation of these profiles
  • has a requirement to improve signs at bathing waters and other information to allow the public to make informed choices about bathing
  • has a requirement to produce emergency plans required for exceptional circumstances
  • includes the possibility of discounting poor samples at some bathing waters due to abnormal weather
  • timetable is in line with the Water Framework Directive, as bathing waters are protected areas under the Water Framework Directive

Once again this new directive has necessitated a UK law being made in order to give it full internal effect, The Bathing Waters Regulations (2008/ 1097) , but alas again these will not become full effective until March 2015 when the appropriate authorities will thereafter be under the legal duty to take measures to ensure compliance. At least this time round the delay prior to legislative effect is only 9 years ! Consequently, until then we will still have to concern ourselves with the old 1976 Directive.