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Dr. Dico Fraters

National Institute for Public Health and the Environment, Bilthoven, The Netherlands

“The Dutch approach and methodologies to implement the ND and WFD and how (un)succesful the Netherlands were in reaching the environmental quality targets for groundwater and surface waters“

© Dr. Dico FratersDr. Dico Fraters
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The Netherlands is the second largest exporter of agricultural products in the world. The production is efficient and environmental impact per kilogram of product is low. Nevertheless, there is a large impact on the environment due to the high production per hectare.

There are several networks that monitor status and trend of water quality. Networks that specifically focus on agriculture are the Minerals Policy Monitoring Programme (LMM) and the Nutrient Monitoring Network for Agricultural Specific Headwaters (MNLSO). LMM monitors agricultural practices and water quality – water leaching from the root zone and ditch water – at a random sample of about 450 commercial farms. MNLSO is a selection of 200 surface waters that are influenced by agriculture and without anthropogenic source of nutrients, such as effluent of wastewater treatment plants. In addition, there are groundwater and surface water monitoring networks for water bodies designated for the Water Framework Directive (WFD).

Nitrate concentrations in root zone leaching water and ditch water, as monitored in LMM, decreased in the 1990-2015 period as a consequence of measures implemented since the mid-1980s. Despite improvements in water quality, nitrate concentrations higher than 50 mg/l are still occurring in 2012-2015, mainly at farms in the Sand and Loess Regions. The number sample points in WFD surface water bodies at which eutrophication occurs decreased in this period. Moreover, 60 percent of the fresh surface waters and slightly more than 10 percent of marine waters are eutrophic. Dissolved nitrogen concentrations are still too high in over 80 percent of marine waters.

Water quality problems with respect to nutrients from agricultural sources are addressed by the Nitrates Directive (ND) action programmes at farm level. The action programmes include measures to reduce both nitrogen and phosphorus emissions on farms. Legislation distinguishes between soil types and measures are based on, amongst others, soil vulnerability to nitrate leaching. The Netherlands applies their action programmes to the entire territory. The WFD river basin plans address these problems in a broader perspective at a regional level. Local authorities are responsible for water quality management. Farmers are stimulated to improve water quality in close co-operation with water managers and local authorities. Within the ‘Delta plan agrarian water management’, an initiative of the Dutch Federation of Agriculture and Horticulture, projects are set up and carried out to address both water quality and water quantity problems. The aim of these new projects is to comply with WFD goals by 2027, since prognoses of the current policy show only a slight decrease in eutrophication of surface waters by 2027.