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European Climate, Infrastructure and Environment Executive Agency
Newsletter26 August 2020Executive Agency for Small and Medium-sized Enterprises3 min read

How LIFE improves Europe’s bathing water quality

After spending so many months at home, many of us are yearning for some time by the water this summer.

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After spending so many months at home, many of us are yearning for some time by the water this summer. But with heavy rainfall on the rise due to climate change, urban sewerage systems sometimes overflow, polluting bathing areas. Researchers at LIFE iBATHWATER have come up with some cutting-edge solutions to help deal with the problem.

The EU has done a lot to try and clean up our waters. In 1991, it adopted the Urban Waste Water Treatment (UWWT) Directive. This law requires all towns with more than 2 000 people to treat their waste water. And in towns and cities with a population of over 10 000, even stricter testing is necessary.  In addition, all Member States must monitor their water bodies following the guidelines set out in the EU's Bathing Water Directive.  

Meanwhile, Carme Bosch, who is the coordinator of the LIFE iBATHWATER project, explains how her team is helping to keep the beaches in Barcelona and the rivers in Berlin free from the harmful contaminants found in untreated waste water.

How did LIFE iBATHWATER start?

Cities have sewers that collect excess rainwater, domestic sewage, and industrial waste water in the same pipe. But the intense rainfall we are now seeing can result in these sewers overflowing.

Bathers in nearby rivers, lakes, and the sea can pick up bacteria from these overflows and come down with illnesses like diarrhoea, skin rashes, eye pain, and even cholera.

The waste water also increases the amount of nutrients in our waters. And this causes a lot of algae to grow, cutting off the oxygen supply to fish, who end up dying.

There is also a negative impact on aquatic biodiversity as waste water often contains toxic pesticides, rubbish, and microplastics.

We wanted to find a solution to these problems.

Why Barcelona and Berlin?

In Barcelona, storm water overflows result in around 6 000 tonnes of solid particles being discharged into the sea each year. This amount is roughly half as heavy as the Eiffel Tower and harms the coastline, the marine environment, and tourism.

In Berlin, meanwhile, around 1 400 tonnes of these solids are spilled into the river Spree annually. This weight is around 13 times heavier than that of a Blue whale. Berlin has 29 bathing areas and these overflows are happening around 40 times a year.

Also, the German government ran a successful project called FLUSSHYGIENE in Berlin and LIFE iBATHWATER is building on its impact.

Both cities can therefore benefit from our project.

What are you doing to stop these overflows?

We want to help manage both cities’ sewerage systems better to reduce the impact that these overflows have on the environment and human health.

To do this, we have developed an open platform that can monitor pollution in real-time, and manage the sewage to reduce the amount of untreated waste water during heavy rainfall. We have also come up with a measuring device called Aquabio, which monitors the quality of the cities’ bathing waters, also in real-time.

What impact will this have?

We hope to decrease the volume of these overflows and the amount of pollution by 20% in both Barcelona and Berlin. We also aim to reduce the health risk to bathers and improve the quality of the water bodies.

You have been doing some research on Covid-19. Can you tell us more?

We want to see if Covid-19, and other viruses, are present in sewage waste water and nearby bathing waters. If they are, we will study the potential impact on bathers.  

What’s next for LIFE iBATHWATER when it finishes in 2021?

Once the project finishes, the next step is to bring the LIFE iBATHWATER solution to the market. The Aquabio device is currently being certified by independent experts.


Publication date
26 August 2020
Executive Agency for Small and Medium-sized Enterprises
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