Quality of Bathing Waters


The percentage share of Dutch bathing water locations in inland waters that comply with the European standards for excellent bathing water quality increased in the period 2000-2017 from 65 percent to 72 percent. Ninety-five percent met the minimum quality requirements in 2017, almost the same as in 2000. For bathing water locations on the Dutch coast, the share with 'Excellent' rating decreased from 96 percent in 2000 to 81 percent in 2017. Nevertheless, 97 percent of the beach locations met the minimum quality requirements in 2017. Over the past three years, the situation has been reasonably stable both in inland waters and at beach locations.

Quality of bathing waters
 Coastal waters (% bathing water locations classified as 'Excellent' )Inland waters (% bathing water locations classified as 'Excellent' )
Source: Ministry of Infrastructure & Water Management, European Commission

The share of Dutch bathing water locations that have been assessed as 'excellent' according to the European Bathing Water Directive, shown separately for inland water (approximately 600 locations) and coastal - and transitional water (approximately 90 locations). The assessment is mainly based on the presence of pathogenic bacteria. The designation of locations is done every year by the provinces, the measurements are carried out by the regional water authorities and Rijkswaterstaat. Figures from 2017 are provisional.

The issue

The European Bathing Water Directive (2006/7/EC) should contribute to the realisation of the European objectives for the preservation, protection and improvement of the quality of the aquatic environment and the protection of human health. The Directive defines four quality classes of bathing water: excellent, good, acceptable and poor. The testing is mainly based on standards for microbiological contamination with E. coli and intestinal enterococci (intestinal bacteria). These two micro-organisms are an indicator for the presence of contaminated sewage water or bird and livestock excrement. A suitable check must be carried out for blue-green algae.

Bathing water quality is important for tourism and recreation. The critical consumer pays attention to the quality of the bathing water when choosing a holiday destination or day recreation. Since tourism is often an important economic sector, many countries recognise the importance of measures to improve bathing water quality. The results of the bathing water assessment are also a reflection of the results of other European water policy, for example the Urban Waste Water Directive, the Nitrates Directive and the Water Framework Directive.


The most important measures to prevent discharges of raw sewage and nutrients have already been taken in the Netherlands during the last decade of the previous century, when the Urban Waste Water Directive was implemented. This led to a strong improvement of Dutch bathing water quality during this period. To illustrate: in 1990, only 5 percent of the locations met the minimum quality requirements.

In general, the bathing water locations in coastal waters score better than the inland water locations. In addition to the locations with excellent quality, there are many locations that meet (lower) criteria for good and at least sufficient bathing water quality. Over the period 2000-2017, the percentage of locations with ‘at least sufficient’ quality fluctuated between 86 percent and 99 percent. In 2017 this was 95 percent.

From 2015, all bathing water locations must at least be classified as ‘at least sufficient’(obligation as to results). In addition, according to the Directive, Member States must make efforts to make bathing water in all locations good to excellent (best effort obligation), and must establish a bathing water profile for each location.

International comparison

More than 85 percent of the 21,000 European bathing water locations that have been assessed, met the most stringent quality standards in 2016 ('excellent'). This means that they contain almost no substances and bacteria that are harmful to human health and the environment. With a score of 75 percent, the Netherlands perform below this European average. In total, 96 percent of European bathing waters in 2016 met the minimum quality requirements ('at least sufficient'), compared to 95 percent in the Netherlands.

Since the beginning of the 1990s, the quality of European bathing waters has greatly improved. This is mainly due to the success of the Urban Waste Water Directive, which has led to a strong decrease of discharges of untreated waste water to vulnerable coastal and inland waters. In popular holiday countries such as France, Spain, Italy and Greece, the majority of the tested locations is situated in coastal areas. In Hungary, Austria, Luxembourg and the Czech Republic, only inland waters are tested.

Bathing waters, 2016
 Bathing waters of excellent quality, 2016 (% bathing water locations classified as 'Excellent')
Czech Republic82.5
United Kingdom65.1
Slovak Republic63.6
Source: EEA, European Commission