Select Committee on European Union Written Evidence


Memorandum by the Environment Agency: Review of Bathing Water Directive (76/160/EEC)


  The Environment Agency broadly welcomes the Commission's proposals for a revision to the existing Directive. Many aspects of the proposals will, in the view of the Agency, increase the protection afforded to prospective bathers from the possible health risks associated with microbiological pollution, improve the provision of environmental information to the public and drive the more standardised application of the Directive across Member States. However, the anticipated requirements for more extensive bathing water management and data-reporting will inevitably lead to increases in the cost of administration of this Directive.


    —  A more explicit framework for the identification and de-identification of bathing waters.

    —  Provision for risk-based monitoring which will allow the greater scrutiny of problem waters.

    —  The modernisation and streamlining of bacteriological parameters (see also, areas of concern below).

    —  A more robust statistical methodology for the assessment of conformity with the revised Directive (see also, areas of concern below).

    —  The expanded provision of environmental information to the public.

    —  The acknowledgement by the European Commission in Article 1 of its proposal that the environmental and health objectives of a revised Bathing Water Directive should complement the measures set out in the Water Framework Directive (2000/60/EC).


    —  Current proposals for laboratory protocols to be employed for the enumeration of the new intestinal enterococci and Escherichia coli parameters.

    —  the stringency of quality standards associated with the aforementioned parameters and the cost implications which will stem from delivering the quality standards and any legal proceedings which may be associated with non-conformity with a revised Directive.

    —  The recommended use of a 95-percentile to assess compliance which disregards sampling error. Such an approach could result in sites being assessed wrongly to have failed the Directive. This could then give rise to misdirected investment in investigations and infrastructure improvements (see Section 2.4).

    —  The lack of consideration of the sustainable development implications of the Commission proposal. The delivery of environmental water quality improvements as a result of the revision of the Directive should be balanced against an associated increase in energy consumption by the water industry (for example, as a result of installing tertiary ultra-violet disinfection).


  The Environment Agency is the competent authority in England and Wales responsible for implementing the requirements of the Bathing Water Directive (76/160/EEC), as directed by Government. The Agency has a significant interest in the ongoing discussions concerning the revision of this piece of legislation. Associated investment under this legislative driver reported to OFWAT by water companies between the financial years 1990-91 and 1999-2000 was in excess of £1.8 billion.


2.1  Identification of waters

  Article 5 of the Commission proposal (COMM (2002) 581 final) provides a more explicit framework for the identification and de-identification of waters than the existing legislation. The Agency supports this clause in anticipation that it will lead to a better inventory of bathing sites and the more efficient targeting of monitoring resources if accompanied by a acceptable definition of what constitutes a bathing water.

2.2  Monitoring of identified waters

  The Environment Agency currently employs laboratory protocols which utilise membrane filtration techniques. The Agency believes that ISO standards associated with both membrane filtration and microtitre techniques for the enumeration of intestinal enterococci and Esherichia coli should be included in the methods of analysis in a revised Directive.

  The published Commission proposal (COMM (2002) 581 final) contained provisions in Article 7 for the establishment of a monitoring calendar to be published by Member States in advance of each bathing season. Provisions for risk-based monitoring activities were contained within Annex IV of the proposal whereby sampling frequency will be inversely proportional to the classification (excellent, good, poor) of each water. The Environment Agency is supportive of both of these clauses.

2.3  Management of identified waters

  The Commission proposals advocate a general shift in philosophy away from purely monitoring the status of identified waters, toward actively managing them throughout the season. The Agency welcomes this move toward the adoption of a more pro-active regulatory stance. However, the application of management actions in the proposal are restricted to intervening only to protect public health during pollution incidents caused by floods, accidents, infrastructure breakdowns or extreme weather. There is a perceived need on the part of the Agency to increase these limited provisions for management actions, and at the same time to make them more flexible and pragmatic. One of the recognised shortcomings of the current Directive is that, due to the time required for laboratory testing of indicator bacteria, it is difficult to effectively protect the public during a short-duration pollution event. There should therefore be expanded scope within a revised Directive for the deployment of management actions in advance of predicted pollution events in order to better protect bathers. Such actions, if successfully undertaken, should be held to represent conformity with the health protection provisions of a revised Directive, particularly when taken to mitigate against intractable problems caused by diffuse pollution.

  The existing Commission proposal will, however, still give rise to a number of organisational challenges. The management of identified waters will require the profiling and classification of all waters, a process which will be routinely reviewed and will require considerable additional resource. Clear roles and responsibilities to fulfil this requirement will also have to be established. The Agency would see a significant role for local authorities taking action to manage the bathing water based on information from the Environment Agency.

  There are several questions which should therefore be considered in relation to the management of identified waters:

 (i)   By what mechanism would the technical assessment of a bathing water be translated into actions taken to protect the public?

 (ii) To what extent would extra capacity be required by the Agency?

  The proposals for revision of the current Directive will increase the level of monitoring, assessment and reporting conducted by the Environment Agency at identified waters.

  Whilst provisions for risk-based monitoring may reduce the overall number of samples taken in the course of a bathing season, sampling costs may increase as a result of increased inefficiencies. There will be increased complexity of sampling programmes and provision will have to be made to respond to pollution incidents.

  The Commission proposal, under the terms of Article 12 and Article 16, would require the Agency to develop the capacity to intervene during pollution events. Additional resources will be required to support the decision making, management and notification activities.

  Reporting requirements will be increased under a revised Directive. In addition to making information available in the vicinity of the bathing itself, a revised Directive will require the enhanced use of media and technologies to disseminate information proactively to the public. Basic information will include profiles for each bathing water; a record of the classification of the bathing water and environmental data relating to all monitored parameters. In addition, full descriptions of management measures undertaken over the previous three years in order to preserve or improve bathing water quality, protect waters against deterioration, or reduce the risk of human exposure will be required under the terms of Article 16. The Agency will require increased resources to expand its existing bathing water internet pages and to develop new information delivery systems in order to provide these augmented reporting requirements.

2.4  Assessment of conformity with a revised Directive

  The Commission has adopted an essentially two-tiered approach towards bacteriological quality standards within its proposal. Recent compliance projections undertaken by the Environment Agency equate the attainment of "good" status as approximately equivalent to current "guideline" status under 76/160/EEC. In the proposals, the "good" quality standard carries with it a projected 1 in 20 risk of contracting gastro-intestinal illness to the bathing public (Section 4.6, Explanatory Memorandum). Such a level of risk might be reasonably expected to result in a large number of incidents of gastro-intestinal illness per annum in the United Kingdom, although this does not appear to be reflected at present in terms of reported cases. Environment Agency reservations are supported by the Defra partial Regulatory Impact Assessment which states that, ". . . UK public health surveillance systems and a detailed study of infectious intestinal disease in England do not detect bathing-related illness and public health professionals regard the issue to be a low public health priority . . .".

  The Agency welcomes the proposed use of more robust statistical approaches, which use multiple seasons of data, to assess compliance against bacteriological standards. However, the Commission proposal for the revised Directive refers to a method for assessing compliance with the 95-percentile standard that is vulnerable to the effects of sampling error. The Agency believes that it would be better to use a method that manages the risk that statistical sampling error may lead to the wrong declaration that a compliant water has failed or that good waters are wongly declared poor. This risk is up to 50 per cent. The Agency recommends the use of a proper statistical test of compliance based on the 95 per cent confidence limit on the estimate of the 95-percentile. This reduces to a maximum of 5 per cent, the risk that serious action is wasted on sites placed wrongly in the poor category because of sampling error. This, in turn, will ensure that when money is being spent, it is delivering a genuine environmental improvement.

  To achieve conformity with the requirements of the proposed revised Directive, a bathing water must achieve a minimum of "good" status. A bathing water classified as "poor" will nevertheless be adjudged to be in conformity with the requirements of the proposed Directive for a period of only three years if appropriate management actions have been taken to protect the public in the intervening period. The terms of Article 13 provide a framework for the effective management of unsatisfactory bathing waters which is an improvement over the current "pass/fail" perspective of the current Directive. As such it is welcomed by the Environment Agency, although there remains a recognised need for the introduction of sufficient flexibility into the management system which would allow it to deal with forms of bacterial pollution which may not be easily mitigated against, or may require more reaslistic time-scales to be set. For example, that from agriculture and wildlife.

2.5  Reporting of environmental information

  Competent authorities within Member States will be required to report on and make available to the general public, an increased volume of environmental information. This data will include information relating to the profile of each identified water, the classification of individual waters, the monitoring calendar and the history of any management actions taken. The Environment Agency has in recent years provided monitoring data on the internet within 10 days of the samples being taken and is well placed to implement many of these requirements. However, the requirements of Article 16 will inevitably increase the administrative costs of implementing any revised Directive in England and Wales.


  The Bathing Water Directive (76/160/EEC) is one of the earliest examples of environmental water quality legislation to be pioneered by the European Commission. In the intervening quarter of a century since its pulication, the text of its Articles have been overtaken by developments in microbiology, an increased sophistication in the use of statistics as a regulatory tool and changes in the public perception of what constitutes an acceptable level of environmental quality. The Agency is supportive of Commission attempts to update this Directive. Any proposals must be able to be justified on cost-benefit criteria. The Commission proposal represents a significant step forward in the monitoring and assessment of identified bathing waters. The recent Defra partial Regulatory Impact Assessment on the ramifications of the Commission proposal represents a robust and welcome initial assessment of the costs associated with a revised Directive and will be accompanied by more detailed assessments in the wake of political agreement on the final text.

23 April 2003

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