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Bathing water quality (until 2014)

This summary has been archived and will not be updated. See 'Kakovost kopalnih voda' for an updated information about the subject.

Bathing water quality (until 2014)

The European Union (EU) lays down rules for the monitoring, assessment and management of the quality of bathing water and for the provision of information on that quality. The aim is twofold, to reduce and prevent the pollution of bathing water, and to inform European citizens of the degree of pollution.


Council Directive 76/160/EEC of 8 December 1975 concerning the quality of bathing water [See amending acts].


This Directive concerns the quality of bathing water in the Member States of the European Union (EU). It concerns those waters in which bathing is authorised by the national authorities and regularly practised by a significant number of bathers. This Directive does not apply to water intended for therapeutic purposes, or to water used in swimming pools.

It lays down the minimum quality criteria to be met by bathing water. They relate to:

  • the limit values of substances considered to be indicators of pollution (in the Annex);
  • the minimum sampling frequency and method of analysis or inspection of such water (in the Annex).

Member States may fix more stringent values than the criteria laid down in the Directive. In addition, where it does not give any values for certain substances, Member States are not obliged to fix any.

Water quality assessment

Sampling is carried out by Member States at different intervals for each polluting substance (in the Annex). Samples are taken at places where the daily average density of bathers is highest. Sampling begins two weeks before the start of the bathing season. The water testing must be adapted to the geographical and topographical conditions and to the presence of existing or potential polluting discharges.


Where the waters do not conform to the parameters of the Directive, Member States may not authorise bathing in them before they have taken the necessary measures to improve the water quality. They have a period of ten years after notification of the Directive for the quality of the water to conform to the set limit values.

However, under certain conditions, bathing water is deemed to conform to the relevant parameters, even if a certain percentage of samples taken during the bathing season do not conform to the limit values. Derogations to the Directive are possible, provided that they meet the objective of protecting public health.

In addition, the consequences of floods, natural disasters or abnormal weather conditions are not taken into consideration when determining the water quality.

Monitoring Committee

A Committee on adaptation to technical progress enables the measures for improving water quality to be adapted. It consists of representatives from the Member States and is chaired by a representative of the Commission.


This is repealed by Directive 2006/7/EC with effect from 31 December 2014. However, it still applies in Member States where transposition of the new Directive is not finished.

The review of bathing water legislation is designed to ensure consistency with the Sixth Environment Action Programme, the Sustainable Development Strategy and the Water Framework Directive. It is also intended to simplify procedures in the light of scientific developments and improve participatory processes for the actors concerned and the information given to the public.



Entry into force

Deadline for transposition in the Member States

Official Journal

Directive 76/160/EEC



OJ L 31, 5.2.1976

Amending act(s)

Entry into force

Deadline for transposition in the Member States

Official Journal

Directive 91/692/EEC



OJ L 377, 31.12.1991

Regulation (EC) No 1137/2008



OJ L 311, 21.11.2008

Successive amendments and corrections to Directive 76/160/EEC have been incorporated in the basic text. This consolidated version is for reference purpose only.


Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament and the Council of 21 December 2000: Developing a new bathing water policy [COM(2000) 860 final - Not published in Official Journal]. The Communication sets out the strengths and weaknesses of the management of bathing water quality, and proposes various approaches to drafting a new directive to take account of technical progress in the field.

Commission Decision 92/446/EEC of 27 July 1992 concerning questionnaires relating to Directives in the water sector [Official Journal L 247 of 27.8.1992]. This Decision draws up the outlines of questionnaires needed to monitor the implementation of and compliance with the provisions of all Directives in the water sector, including Directive 76/160/EEC.

Last updated: 16.03.2011