Nitrate in groundwater
Assessment made on 01 May 2004
ClassificationWater (Primary theme)
- WEU 001
Policy issue: Are nitrate concentrations in groundwater falling?
There is no evidence of a decrease (or increase) of nitrate concentrations in Europe's groundwaters. Nitrate drinking water limit values are exceeded in around one-third of the groundwater bodies for which information is currently available.
According to the latest European Commission report  there is a high and stagnant level of nitrate concentrations in groundwater. The general trend in nitrate concentrations in groundwater when comparing the first (1992-1994) and second (1996-1998) monitoring exercise is summarised as "stable to increasing". Countries showing an overall increase in nitrate concentrations in groundwater are France and Sweden .
It is very difficult to prove a direct context between the application of nitrogen fertiliser in agriculture and the nitrate content in groundwaters as there is often a significant time lag between changes in agricultural practices and changes in nitrate concentrations in groundwater of up to 40 years, depending on the hydrogeological conditions .
The map of nitrate problem areas in EEA (2000) and statements in several State of the Environment (SoE) reports indicate that the provided information might not fully reflect problems with nitrate in groundwater in Europe as several nitrate problem areas mentioned in the SoE reports are not reported to EUROWATERNET.
Furthermore, low nitrate concentration levels can occur due to reducing conditions. Therefore the Sub-indicator 6 on ammonium has been introduced to provide complementary information.
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