There could have been many easier and more cathy titles for this post, like: ‘The good, the bad and the very bad’, ‘Right to urban swimming’, and so on. There is however, as reason for my slightly-negatively-sounding-question title. I’ll come to that later. The last 2-3 days I have dug myself into researching a bit about water quality, more specifically the quality of European bathing waters – lakes and rivers including. Rivers are very important elements of many European cities, however often with no or very little connection to the inhabitants. Throughout the centuries we feared waters – with a reason – because of floods due to a weak or developing water management. Nowadays, rivers in many European cities are far more man-controlled machines, and hence safer than before.
But today, there seems to be another monster image of rivers in cities. Ever since the industrial revolution, rivers have – very unfortunately – been used as draining pipes for all the waste from factories, cargo ships, households and even agricultural fields. (Biochemical) pollution is propably what we fear of most when (thinking of) soaking our feet in waterr or taking a swim. There has been many urban water restoration programmes applied and successfully finished in many cities. Just think of Basel or Bern in Switzerland (probably the most famous and popular examples), Barcelona or Copenhagen. For instance, 26 years ago no one would have thought of taking a swim in the Rhine in Basel, it was highly polluted by the local pharmaceutical companies. And the quality of our rivers is slowly and silently improving.
Swimming in the Rhein, Basel
Photo: Juri Weiss / Source: www.bs.ch/bilder
To find data, however, on the water quality of our rivers and lakes, and finding parameters that definine them as ‘bathing waters’, was not very easy. The last ‘Bathing Water EU Directive’ is 37 years old (from 1976!), guiding us European citizens in this rather outdated document on the safe consistency of our waters. Also, I had some problems with the classifications of waters: ‘very good, good, moderate, bad and very bad’. Nowhere I could find what those classifications mean. It is quiet difficult to find information about what (dangerous) materials are to be found in our rivers and lakes and what are the parameters to measure their quality? (If anyone of you would know of a document defining them, I would be happy to hear it!). Will this be clearer in the new bathing water directive (which should be implemented in 2015)?
Swimming in the Rhein, Basel
Photo: Juri Weiss / Source: www.bs.ch/bilder
Also, many bathing waters in Europe were coastal waters and lakes, but no rivers.
How can we put rivers as bathing waters on the map? How and can we compare water quality parameters of coastal waters/lakes and rivers?
The data and tools that helped me to find out more about the quality of European rivers in cities (within urban areas) were interactive data maps by the European Environmental Agency (see below) and for the Danube waterways is was the Final Report of the Joint Danube Survey 2 from 2007 (see below).
Interactive data map of the European Envronmental Agency (EEA): Water quality in rivers and lakes
Data-management tool: mapping the entire Danube waterway.
Even though I would have liked to compare the water quality of important European cities such as London (Thames), Prague (Vltava) or Amsterdam (Amstel), I have made a selection of cities and rivers I could find information of via the EPA. All the data are from 2010 (annual mean), unfortunately this means that we do not have information of the warm summer period when people seek waters for refreshment more often, and as a conflicting element – water quality is decreased during that time (as bacteria like warmer environments).
Thanks to the Basel’s classification of system of parameters defining water quality in rivers, I could start comparing the quality of European rivers to one another. If I knew what’s a good water quality, and what ingredients define it, then I could apply it to other rivers! And the outcomes were rather surprising. Our rivers are in fact clean and becoming cleaner. Here’s a small excerpt found in the Joint Danube Study 2 from 2007 on the situation in Bratislava (Slovakia):
“Bacterial parameters keep declining, showing their minimum at Bratislava … However, the inputs of the Morava River and Moson arm are characterised by high bacterial numbers, biomass and production … Nonetheless it is remarkable that bacterial parameter values from Danube samples in the vicinity of Bratislava remain low.”
(JDS2 Final Report, 2008 ;p. 99-100)
Swimming in the Danube, Bratislava (2012): Can this rather unusual occurence become more ‘every-day’ in the summer?
Photo: Svetlana Igorievna Majstrosestrovskij
Swimming in the Danube, Bratislava (1930′s?): Natural bathing water Lido
Here is a small comparisom of the amount of pollutants defining the quality of our rivers. To make the results a bit more bold and concrete, I have added a small pointing system.
Data comparisom: Veronika Kovacsova
The quesion that still remains in my mind is: if we have a ranking system for bathing water in our lakes and seas, why can’t we have it for our rivers as well?
In the end, it might not be the water quality that is a problem, but the accessibility to the rivers in our cities. This rather negative title hopefully triggers a public discussion not really about swimming (which is wonderful!), but rather the right to the river, embracing this often tucked-away part of the city. Restoration of rivers as ecological and social incubators in our cities will be studied here further.
So hopefully more positive news, studies and stories to come soon!
Sources and other reads:
Towards better water quality http://www.government.nl/issues/water-management/water-quality/towards-better-water-quality
Bathing water quality remains high around the EU (Oct 03, 2011) http://www.eea.europa.eu/pressroom/newsreleases/bathing-water-quality-remains-high
Bathing water quality http://ec.europa.eu/environment/water/water-bathing/report_2011.html
Joint Danube Survey 1 (2001, ICPDR) http://www.icpdr.org/main/activities-projects/joint-danube-survey-1
Joint Danube Survey 2 (2007, ICPDR) http://www.icpdr.org/main/activities-projects/joint-danube-survey-2 & http://www.icpdr.org/jds/files/ICPDR_Technical_Report_for_web_low_corrected.pdf
Profily vôd na kúpanie http://www.uvzsr.sk/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=1136:profily-vod-na-kupanie&catid=59:kupaliska&Itemid=66
Zoznam vôd vhodných na kúpanie v SR pre kúpaciu sezónu 2010 http://www.sazp.sk/public/index/go.php?id=1167&idl=1167&idf=752&lang=sk
Kvalita vody na kúpanie http://www.enviroportal.sk/agendy/obcan/kvalita-vody-na-kupanie
MŽP: Kvalita vody Dunaja sa neustále zlepšuje (29.6. 2007) http://www.sme.sk/c/3372602/mzp-kvalita-vody-dunaja-sa-neustale-zlepsuje.html
Dunajské kúpaliská v Bratislave (29. 1. 2012) http://www.bratislavskerozky.sk/sk/Cerstve-rozky/Historia/Dunajske-kupaliska-v-Bratislave.html
Julo Satinský / staré kúpalisko Lido http://romanbrna.blog.sme.sk/c/273255/Julo-Satinsky-stare-kupalisko-Lido.html
Wasserqualität (Stadt-Basel) http://www.aue.bs.ch/fachbereiche/gewaesser/oberflaechengewaesser/wasserqualitaet.htm
Baden im Rhein http://www.wsa-koeln.wsv.de/aktuelle_informationen/baden_im_rhein.html & http://www.aue.bs.ch/bericht2008_ofg_aue-bs.pdf
Wie Basel lernte, im Fluss zu leben (11.09.2012) http://www.zeit.de/reisen/2012-08/lust-auf-stadt-basel-rhein-schwimmen
Projekt Vltava http://www.projektvltava.com
& mapping tools
Interactive maps by the EEA on water http://www.eea.europa.eu/data-and-maps/find#c1=Interactive+data&c1=Interactive+map&c6=water&c9=all&c0=12&b_start=0