The water quality results obtained in 2009 bySurfrider Foundation Europe show potentially chronic contamination for certain Basque coast beaches, or results that are in breach of the terms of the new European Directive, despite previous and ongoing efforts regarding pollution sources (drainage works).
Water quality is currently regulated by a European Directive, called the Bathing Water Directive of 1976. The directive requires member states to survey the quality of water: in swimming zones, from a bacteriological point of view and during the summer period.
The 'old' Directive is going to be replaced by a new Directive (2006/7/CE) that was adopted in 2006 and will be applicable in 2015, and that will include the following key principles: simplication of surveillance criteria, better public information and a toughening of thresholds for acceptable bacteria levels.
The new Directive lowers the threshold for unacceptable water quality
Under the old Directive of 1976, the group of test sites, on average, saw an excellent quality of water in 2009. However, when we apply the new criteria that is 4 times as severe as the old directive of 2006, certain sites obtain inadequate results and therefore could be closed for swimming in 2015.
To highlight the impact of the new directive regarding 'classing' of beaches and for identifying the origin of pollutions, working discussions are underway involving the relevant institutions and communities.
This dialogue will also hopefully show the importance of following water quality all year long. Indeed, despite the improvements under the new Directive, the surveillance period is still limited to the summer period and wont take into account zones for nautical activities.
However, we see especially on the Basque coast, that water sports are practised regularly all year long. These sportspeople are therefore as exposed as swimmers, if not more so, to infection or contamination. Equally, in winter as in summer.
A network of complementary water quality testing
Alongside the regulations currently in place, Surfrider Foundation Europe have implemented surveillance networks on coastal water quality all year round for sites of nautical activity, in order to provide the public, water sportspeople, institutions and councils/towns with better information.
This surveillance network addresses 4 main objectives :
- to follow the bacteria levels and water quality of coastal areas all year long, as the regulations require testing only during the summer period.
- to gather as much information/data as possible, including comments and observations with the goal of improving understanding of the sites.
- to inform members, water sportspeople, the public at large and the group of involved local actors regarding water quality of the different zones followed.
- to emphasise contamination problems and encourage discussion between local actors/representatives.
The objective is also to forecast the consequences of the new European norms that will be applicable in 2015.
Water quality in the bay of Biscay
On the Biscay coast, water quality was followed in 10 zones in co-operation with volunteers, surfclubs and the Basque Surf Federation within the framework of Mare Urdina's 'cross border project'.
All of these zones are swimming and nautical activity areas: including diving, surfing, or canoeing that is practiced on a regular basis on the Basque coast all year long. The sites followed are between the beaches of Muskiz and Sukarrieta : The Arena, Ereaga, Arrigunaga, Barinatxe, Arriatera, Atxabiribil, Plentzia, Bakio, Mundaka and Toña.
In 2009, 8 volunteers actively participated in the sampling. These 'Watermen testers' are for the most part surfers of the clubs along the coast (Peña Txuri, Mundaka Surf Taldea, El Pasillo,
) who are concerned about water quality at their spot and their local environment. In total, in the 2009 season, there were 342 samples analysed for the 10 zones followed.
When unfavourable results are obtained, Surfrider communicates this information to the towns concerned as well as to the waste water treatment providers, with the view of initiating a formal enquiry. This work is carried out in collaboration with AZTI, those responsible for the environment in the communities, water agencies in the Basque Country, the Basque government (health department), and the Biscay deputy general. The objective being, to commence a working dialogue for the reduction of contamination problems.
Beyond the Bay of Biscay, Gipúzkoa and Iparralde
The sample points are re-evaluated each year by the Surfrider team (volunteers, 'Watermen testers', employees) in order to better respond to the publics questions. 2010 should see an extension of the network on the coast of Gipuzkoa and the French Basque coast. As such, 7 testing zones will be added to the existing network, bringing the number of sites to 17. The numerous volunteers will provide their support and bring to life this complementary network of water quality testing.
Within the Framework of Mare Urdina's work on water quality, Surfrider Foundation, in collaboration with the Pyrenees Atlantique General Council, have organised the 'Bathing water quality' cross border conference on the 23 and 24 June 2010 at Hendeye. The conference will be a European meeting that allows specialists (state services, institutions, collectives, private managers/bodies
) to exchange their experiences regarding the management of bathing water quality in the context of the future application of the new Directive (2006/7/CEE).
Read more about Surfrider Europe's Bathing Waters program and water testing laboratories here.