Strong package of necessary measures to improve water quality news

News feature | 06-09-2021 | 14:46

In order to improve the water quality in the Netherlands, a robust package of measures has been proposed for agriculture for the period 2022 – 2025. Minister Schouten for Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality (LNV) wrote this to the House of Representatives today, also on behalf of i.a. the Minister and the State Secretary for Infrastructure and Water Management (IenW). The package of measures as proposed in the draft ‘7e The action program for the Nitrates Directive is a mixture of facilitating and binding, including binding sustainable construction plans, where residual crops are changed more often and follow-up crops are used more often.

The Netherlands faces several major challenges. Not only for nitrogen and climate, but also for water quality. Agriculture plays an important role here, because fertilization of fields and grasslands can wash out and flush manure and contaminate groundwater and surface water. In order to improve water quality, protect nature and keep the cost of purifying drinking water manageable, leaching and runoff of manure must be limited.

Minister Carola Schouten: “Good water quality is in everyone’s interest, for people and animals, for nature and the environment, but also for agriculture itself. Together, we have already been able to significantly improve water quality, but unfortunately it is still insufficient. Because so far we are pushing towards environmental boundaries, there are no easy solutions anymore. We now have to do everything we can to ensure that we reach our water quality targets. “

Although significant progress has already been made, there have been no further improvements in water quality in recent years. The drought in 2018-2020 has not helped either. The task is therefore still great. In more than half of the farms in the southern sand and loess region, the nitrate concentration is too high in the upper part of the groundwater. A large part of the surface water in the Netherlands – ditches, streams, lakes, rivers – does not yet meet the desired quality according to the standards of the Water Framework Directive (WFD), partly due to too much fertilizer from agriculture.

Works with water quality

Water quality is a cross-border task. Therefore, all EU Member States are drawing up a four-year agricultural practice program to improve their water quality in line with the European Nitrates Directive. According to that guideline, no more than 50 ml of nitrate per liters of water from the root zone of agricultural land to groundwater.

The same problem applies to water quality, which we know from the nitrogen problem: Some organisms benefit from a lot of nitrogen (and phosphorus), and due to their increase can displace other species. Nitrogen and phosphorus cause algae or duckweed cover in the surface water, and if this happens too much, sufficient sunlight does not penetrate the aquatic plants. When these begin to rot, it draws oxygen from the water, causing fish to die. Due to this chain reaction, the diversity of life in the surface water disappears.

Sustainable construction plans and mandatory buffer zones

To reverse the trend in water quality, the design includes 7e action program as an important measure to make sustainable building plans mandatory from 2023. The mandatory rotation of residual crops and the use of catch crops will be gradually introduced.

It is further proposed to require wider buffer strips along ditches that must not be fertilized or sprayed. Due to the regional differences in efficiency, the intention is to give the water boards power to determine where these buffer strips can be omitted. In addition to improving water quality, the measures will also benefit soil quality.

In addition, the proposed effort package will provide extra space for spreading straw-rich manure, which improves soil quality. This will also have a positive effect on meadow birds and on carbon storage, which in turn benefits the climate.

Environmental impact of design 7th action program

The environmental impact assessment shows that the targets for groundwater quality with the design are 7e action program can be reached. However, the targets for surface water quality have not yet been reached. In collaboration with IenW, LNV is starting further research into further initiatives to increase the target area for surface water. The connection is also sought with the nitrogen dossier, because there are possibilities for an integrated approach.

Economic impact

The economic implications of this package of measures are currently being examined. LNV wants to look at how any costs can be absorbed and the farmer can maintain a good revenue model along with the entire chain. In addition, LNV is looking at how we can support farmers through funding from the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) to make the necessary sustainable transition.

Public hearing

Designed 7e The action program for the Nitrates Directive has now been published for public consultation. All interested parties have until October 18 to respond to the proposal. Here you will find all information.

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