Urgent Action Needed to Protect EU Waters from Nitrates
A report issued by the EU Commission today warns that nitrates continue to cause harmful pollution in EU waters. The latest Commission Report on the implementation of the Nitrates Directive based on data from 2016 to 2019 reveals that little progress has been made over the last decade and nutrient pollution from agriculture is still a serious concern for many Member States.
While nitrogen is a vital nutrient that allows plants and crops to grow, high concentrations in water are harmful to people and nature. Nitrates from livestock manure and mineral fertilisers have been a major source of water pollution in Europe for decades. About half of the nitrogen in fertiliser and manure applied in Europe is lost to the surrounding environment. In economic terms, this amounts to a loss of potential benefits to farmers of between €13 and €65 billion per year.
For the period from 2016 to 2019, across Member States, 14.1% of groundwater still exceeded the nitrates concentration limit set for drinking water. According to the findings, water reported as eutrophic in the EU includes 81% of marine waters, 31% of coastal waters, 36% of rivers and 32% of lakes.
The overall environmental costs of all reactive nitrogen losses in Europe are estimated at between €70 and €320 billion per year, much beyond the costs of reducing pollution at source. Where national authorities and farmers have cleaned up waters, it has had a positive impact on drinking water supply and biodiversity, and on the sectors such as fisheries and tourism that depend on them. Nevertheless, excessive fertilisation remains a problem in many parts of the EU.
Virginijus Sinkevičius, European Commissioner for the Environment, Fisheries and Oceans, said, “The implementation of the Nitrates Directive over the last 30 years has undoubtedly increased water quality overall in the EU. We also see that real efforts to switch to sustainable methods are paying off. However, the pace of change is not enough to prevent damage to human health and preserve fragile ecosystems. In line with the European Green Deal, more urgent action is now needed to achieve a sustainable agriculture and protect our precious water supply.”
In order to reach the European Green Deal objective of reducing nutrient losses by at least 50% by 2030, compliance with the Nitrates Directive must be improved.
Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Germany, Finland, Hungary, Latvia, Luxemburg, Malta, the Netherlands, Poland and Spain are facing the greatest challenges in tackling nutrient pollution from agriculture. Bulgaria, Cyprus, Estonia, France, Italy, Portugal and Romania also have hotspots where pollution should be urgently diminished.