The latest Commission Report on the implementation of the Nitrates Directive shows that water pollution caused by nitrates has decreased in Europe in the last two decades, but in sectors such as agriculture good practices need to be further extended.
Karmenu Vella, Commissioner for Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries: "Clean water is vital for healthy ecosystems and for citizens’ quality of life. I am happy to see that EU rules to reduce pollution from nitrates in water are delivering. Member States' longstanding efforts to put them into practice are paying off. Still further effort is needed to achieve a more sustainable agriculture in the EU. Farmers should always be looking for ways to manage the nutrient cycle more sustainably. This will reduce the costs for public authorities to treat polluted water, make it safe for drinking and is in the long-term interests of the farmers themselves.”
Thanks to the EU Nitrates Directive, nitrates concentrations have fallen in both surface and groundwater. Eutrophication – the excess growth of weeds and algae that suffocates life in rivers and seas – has also decreased, while sustainable agricultural practices in relation to nutrients’ management have become more widespread. Despite this positive overall trend, nitrates pollution and eutrophication continue to cause problems in many Member States. They need to step up their efforts to bring the waters in the European Union to a good status.
Agricultural pressures on water quality are still increasing in some areas, as some agricultural practices are heavily dependent on fertilisers that can cause local water quality to deteriorate. The trends observed in the report thus may have a bearing on the supply of clean drinking water, and the costs that public authorities have to carry to treat polluted water.
Several Member States and regions still have a high percentage of nitrate-polluted and eutrophic waters. Based on the reported data, the highest percentage of polluted groundwater stations are found in Malta, Germany, and Spain. Regarding fresh water the highest percentage is found in Malta, Belgium and the United Kingdom.
Overall, the quality of national action programmes has improved, with tightened measures and improved methodologies to reach balanced fertilisation and sustainable manure management. Some Member States are developing innovative manure processing technologies. However, challenges remain, such as how to properly take into account all nutrient inputs from different sources, and how to prevent nutrient losses to water and air through effective manure management.
Although water monitoring steadily improved in 2012-2015, strengthened water monitoring, especially of saline surface waters, would improve the comparability of the data on nitrogen pollution and provide a more detailed picture of the overall quality of the EU waters.
This report, mainly based on the information submitted by Member States for the period 2012–2015, is accompanied by a Staff Working Document (SWD(2018)246, insert link) which includes maps and tables on indicators of nutrient pressures from agricultural sources, water quality and designated nitrate vulnerable zones, both at EU level and at Member State level.
4 May 2018