Solid package of necessary measures to improve water quality | News report

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

In order to improve water quality in the Netherlands, a robust package of measures for agriculture has been proposed for the period 2022 – 2025. This is what Minister Schouten for Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality (LNV) wrote today to the House of Representatives, also regarding on behalf of the Minister and Secretary of State for Infrastructure and Water Management (IenW). The package of measures as proposed in the draft ‘7e action program Nitrate directive’ is a mixture of facilitation and commitment, including the commitment to sustainable cultivation plans, where there is more rotation with dormant crops, and follow-on crops are used more.

The Netherlands faces several major challenges. Not only for nitrogen and climate, but also for water quality. Agriculture plays an important role here, because fertilizing fields and grasslands can cause fertilizers to wash out and run off, contaminating ground and surface water. In order to improve water quality, protect nature and keep drinking water treatment costs manageable, the leaching and runoff of fertilizers 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 improve water quality considerably, but unfortunately it is still insufficient. Because we are so far gnawing at environmental limits, there are no easy solutions anymore. We now have to do everything we can to ensure we meet our water quality targets.”

Although significant progress has already been made, there have been no further improvements in water quality in recent years. The 2018-2020 drought didn’t help either. The task is therefore still great. On 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 because of too many fertilizers from agriculture.

Works with water quality

Water quality is a cross-border task. Therefore, all EU member states draw up a four-year agricultural practice program to bring their water quality up to par in accordance with the European Nitrates Directive. According to this directive, no more than 50 ml of nitrate per liters of water from the agricultural soil’s root zone to the groundwater.

The problem with water quality is the same as we know from the nitrogen problem: some organisms benefit from a lot of nitrogen (and phosphorus) and can crowd out other species due to their increase. Nitrogen and phosphorus cause algae or duck food to form in the surface water, and if there is too much, insufficient sunlight penetrates the aquatic plants. When these rot, it deprives the water of oxygen and kills the fish. This chain reaction causes the diversity of life in the surface water to disappear.

Sustainable building plans and mandatory buffer zones

To reverse the trend for water quality, the design 7e action program proposed as an important measure to make sustainable building plans mandatory from 2023. It gradually introduces mandatory rotation of dormant crops and use of catch crops.

It is also proposed to require wider buffer strips along ditches that may not be fertilized or sprayed. Due to regionally varying effectiveness, it is intended to empower water authorities to determine where these buffer strips can be dispensed with. In addition to water quality, the measures will also benefit soil quality.

In addition, the proposed action package will include additional space for spreading straw-rich manure, which will improve soil quality. This will also have a positive effect for meadow birds and for carbon storage, which in turn will benefit the climate.

Environmental impacts of the draft Seventh Action Programme

The environmental impact assessment shows that the goals 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. LNV, in collaboration with IenW, is starting further research into further measures to increase the target area for surface water. The connection is also sought with the nitrogen dossier, because there are opportunities for an integrated approach there.

Economic impact

The economic impact of this package of measures is currently being studied. Together with the entire chain, LNV wants to see how any costs can be absorbed and the farmer can maintain a good income model. 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

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

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