Canoeist Pathogenic Illness Guide
5 - Legal Regulation
5.1 - European Community Bathing Water Directive (1976)
5.2 - Statutory Water Quality Standards
Forward to Chapter 6 - Discussion
There are many Laws and Regulations which may impinge on the management and study of the health effects of pathogenic microrganisms in river water. There are also many stutory authorities and agencies with specific responsibilities under these laws. Such agencies could include the Environment Agency (originally National Rivers Authority), Water Supply Companies, the National Health Service and Public Health Laboratory Service, and Local Authorities (including Public Health and Health and Safety at Work Departments).
It is outside the scope of this study to consider legal aspects such as duty of care, liability and all of the other laws and regulations which may be relevant to a site manager or sports coach involved in water recreation.
There are however two sets of regulations which are specifically relevant to the consideration of recreational water quality and pathogenic microrganisms.
The European Community's bathing water standard contains a number of microbiological quality requirements for bathing water, as well as other requirements concerning aesthetic and chemical standards. These standards are summarised at Appendix D.
As mentioned earlier, these standards have been criticised for their lack of epidemiological rigour, and some member states have used their own, stricter, standards. The overall inconsistency of current standards for recreational water quality is causing widespread international debate. Many of the large scale epidemiological studies reported in Chapter Three have been commissioned in an attempt to clarify some of these issues. Revised standards eventually may be issued for discussion, but in the meantime the EC Directive standards are all that is available, and are in widespread use.
Within the UK, 425 beaches in England and Wales are sampled during the bathing season which is deemed to run from 15 May to 30 September. In 1995 89.2% of the beaches passed (NRA 1996) although in two cases a waiver was granted after high indicator levels during a storm event.
No inland sites are classified as bathing waters under the terms of the Directive, and no reasoning or justification for this decision has been found in the literature.
The Water Act 1989 and Water Resources Act 1991 established the National Rivers Authority and gave it great powers to control discharges to watercourses. The Acts also made provision for a new system of Statutory Water Quality Objectives, to replace an informal system previously operated by water authorities.
Under this system the Secretary of State is empowered to serve a notice on the NRA (now Environment Agency) which defines Water Quality Objectives (WQOs) for any specific stretch of water. The WQOs would consist of one or more sets of quality requirements, and the dates by which they are required to be met.
The WQOs and standards are prescribed according to the potential uses of the water, which include:
Each Use Category has an accompanying set of water quality standards according to the needs of that use.
Recreational Water Quality Standards for the Water Contact Activity Use category are still at the developmental stage (Vaughan, J, 1993), with the same types of discussion and uncertainty as are met in discussions of the EC Bathing Water Directive. Nevertheless the use of recreational WQOs has the potential to put the management of the quality of UK inland water for recreational purposes on a statutory basis for the first time.