At a glance
- All bathing waters in the EU were supposed to be of at least sufficient quality by 2016.
- Germany missed the target by a narrow margin: nearly 98 % of all bathing waters met the requirements in 2015 and 2016.
- Taking into account only those bathing waters that were assessed, 99.8 % of the bathing waters met the requirements.
- Nearly 93 % of inland bathing waters and 80 % of coastal bathing waters had excellent water quality in 2016.
Swimming in natural waters may be associated with health risks. Like all waters, bathing waters are used for a wide range of purposes and are therefore exposed to a number of pollution risks.
The indicator is based on the hygienic quality of the bathing water by measuring the level of faecal bacteria in the water. Bathing waters with high concentrations of these bacteria are at risk of also having pathogens present. These can cause diseases involving fever, sickness and diarrhoea. This risk is present after heavy rain, for instance, as a result of combined waste water overflow from sewage treatment plants or runoff from agricultural land. Another problem arises as a result of high nutrient discharges (especially phosphates). These can lead to a mass development of cyanobacteria. If these bacteria occur in large numbers, measures have to be taken. The presence of cyanobacteria is, however, not included in the quality assessment.
Assessing the development
Germany’s bathing waters are of good quality. In 2016, nearly 98 % of all bathing water sites met the EU’s minimum quality standards (inland waters 97.8 %, coastal waters 97.3 %). Taking into account the fact that not all bathing water sites can be assessed (e.g. because they are new), 99.8 % of the assessed bathing water sites meet the criteria. Nearly 93 % of inland bathing sites and 80 % of coastal bathing sites had excellent bathing water quality. Between 1992 and 2001, the proportion of bathing sites complying with the guideline and minimum values rose steadily. Since then, the quality of Germany’s bathing waters has remained at a high level with slight fluctuations. The European Bathing Water Directive (EU DIR 2006/7/EC) sets out the values that bathing water has to comply with for the various levels of hygiene quality. All bathing water sites were supposed to at least meet the requirements of the sufficient quality level by 2015. The target was missed by a narrow margin, but Germany is still one of the leading countries in Europe.
Water samples have to be taken in all European bathing waters before and during the bathing season according to a monitoring calendar. The samples are analysed for the faecal bacteria Escherichia coli and for the clade group intestinal enterococci. Specified concentrations have to be met for the different quality levels, which are set out in Annex I of the Bathing Water Directive. A detailed description of the methodology can be found in the Bathing Water Directive and in the report on the state of bathing water quality published by the European Environment Agency (EEA 2017).
More detailed information: 'Qualität von Badegewässern an Küsten- und Binnengewässern' (in German only).