Document Type


Publication Date

Summer 8-15-2012


Planned changes to the European Union’s Bathing Waters Directive (2006/7 EC) will force member states to produce improvements in a number of parameters of coastal water quality. This study uses the choice experiment method to estimate the economic benefits attached to such improvements, based on a sample of recreationalists on beaches in Ireland. The analysis indicates that improvements in all of the bathing water related attributes studied result in positive willingness to pay, and also show evidence of scope effects. Using random parameters and latent class modelling techniques, potential heterogeneity in preferences is then investigated and shown to be present to a significant degree. One observable determinant of this preference heterogeneity is the degree of exposure of individuals to health risks relating to water quality, as proxied by the type of recreational activity they undertake.


A new European Union Directive on bathing water (Directive 2006/7/EC) came into force on 24 March 2006. It repeals the existing 1976 Quality of Bathing Waters Directive with effect from 31 December 2014. The 2006 Directive establishes a new classification system for bathing water quality based on four water quality classifications: ‘poor’, ‘sufficient’, ‘good’ and ‘excellent’ and requires that a status of ‘sufficient’ be achieved by 2015 for all bathing waters. Environmental regulators must place warning signs on beaches which fail to meet this standard. Repeated failures to meet the standard will result in beaches being de-designated. The new Directive on bathing water establishes microbiological standards for two new parameters, namely intestinal enterococci and Escherichia coli. Since 2011, these two microbiological parameters have been monitored and used to classify bathing waters. In Ireland, the Environmental Protection Agency is charged with monitoring and testing the compliance status of Irish bathing waters with EU bathing water quality standards. As can be seen from Figure 1, the quality of Ireland’s bathing waters is high, with 97% of bathing areas (127 of 131 areas monitored) complying with the minimum EU mandatory values and achieving ‘sufficient’ water quality status [10]. However, other European countries face more of a challenge in complying with the Directive: in England, for example, around 7% of beaches currently do not comply with the new ‘sufficient’ standard.