Water Quality

With regard to pollution, the Elbe generally meets the EU standard for swimming water. But as the Elbe is a stretch of running water, the quality can vary considerably. For this reason only a few rivers in Germany are designated as suitable for swimming by the EU. Special local conditions, such as heavy rainfall or higher water temperatures can mean that the river, which is over 100 km long, can exceed the limits in certain areas.

Since the reunification of Germany, the quality of the Elbe water has improved considerably. There has been a definite reinforcement of the natural self-cleaning processes, particularly in the Upper and Central Elbe. In all areas apart from the tidal Elbe the level of oxygen in the Elbe is described as “good”. This accounts for the discovery of 94 species of fish in the Elbe today (in 1992 there were only 50). With the exception of the Atlantic sturgeon all previous species are again represented.

The enormous efforts to build municipal sewage works in the whole of the Elbe region are exemplary: since 1990 239 larger municipal sewage works have been built, 60 of which are in the Czech Republic, 177 in Germany and one on an Austrian tributary of the Elbe. This means that all towns in the Elbe region with more than 20,000 inhabitants have modern sewage works. Technological developments in industrial plants have also contributed to a reduction in the influx of harmful substances.

For the Elbe Swimming Day 2005 the initiators recommend that the local organisers have the quality of the water measured by the health authorities. The evaluation of the results by the relevant regional authorities should be based on the EU Guidelines for Stretches of Swimming Water. Those values which are relevant for these guidelines should be measured.