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You are here: Home / Data and maps / Indicators / Nutrients in freshwater / Nutrients in freshwater (CSI 020) - Assessment published Jan 2009

Nutrients in freshwater (CSI 020) - Assessment published Jan 2009

Topics: ,

Generic metadata

Topics:

Water Water (Primary topic)

Tags:
water | soer2010 | biodiversity | csi
DPSIR: State
Typology: Descriptive indicator (Type A - What is happening to the environment and to humans?)
Indicator codes
  • CSI 020
Dynamic
Temporal coverage:
1992-2005
 
Contents
 

Key policy question: Are concentrations of nutrients in our freshwaters decreasing?

Key messages

Nitrate concentrations in Europe's groundwaters increased in the first half of 1990s and have then  remained relatively constant.

The average nitrate concentration in European rivers has decreased approximately 10 % since 1998 from 2.8 to 2.5 mg N/l, reflecting the effect of measures to reduce agricultural inputs of nitrate. Nitrate levels in lakes are in general much lower than in rivers, but also in lakes there has been a 15 % reduction in the average nitrate concentration.

Phosphorus concentrations in European rivers and lakes generally decreased during the last 14 years, reflecting the general improvement in wastewater treatment and reduced phosphate content of detergents over this period.

Concentrations of nitrate (left, NO3) and phosphorus (right, OP (orthophosphate) or TP (total phosphorus)) in European freshwater bodies in the period 1992-2005.

Note: Concentrations are expressed as annual mean concentrations for groundwater, and station weighted mean of annual mean concentrations for rivers and lakes

Data source:

Waterbase (Version 6)

Downloads and more info

Key assessment

Nitrate in groundwaters

See also WISE interactive maps:  Nitrates in groundwater by country

Groundwaters in Europe have mean nitrate concentrations above the background levels (10 mg/l NO3), but the mean concentrations are well below the parametric value of 50 mg/l NO3 (Drinking Water Directive [1]). At the European level, annual mean nitrate concentrations in groundwaters have remained relatively stable since the mid-1990s.

Nitrate in rivers and lakes

See also WISE interactive maps: Mean annual Nitrates in rivers

At the European level there has been a decrease in concentrations of nitrate in both rivers and lakes, which is consistent with the recent EC report [2] on implementation of the Nitrates Directive [3]. Agriculture is the largest contributor of nitrogen pollution, and due to the EU Nitrate Directive and national measures the nitrogen pollution from agriculture has been reduced in some regions during the last 10-15 years, this reduced pressure is reflected in lower river and lake nitrate concentrations. Also the European air emissions of nitrogen oxides have been reduced by one third over the last 15 years [6] and the deposition of nitrogen on inland surface waters have decreased. The reduction of lower nitrate levels in lakes may partly be explained by lower nitrogen oxides  emissions to air.

Phosphorus in rivers and lakes

See also WISE interactive maps: Mean annual Orthophosphate in rivers & Mean annual Total Phosphorous in lakes

The average concentrations of orthophosphate in European rivers halved over the past 14 years. In many rivers the reduction started in the 1980s. The decrease is due to the measures introduced by national and European legislation, in particular the Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive [4], which involves the removal of nutrients. Also the change to use of phosphate-free detergents has contributed to lower phosphorus concentration.

During the past few decades there has also been a gradual reduction in phosphorus concentrations in many European lakes. As treatment of urban wastewater has improved and many waste water outlets have been diverted away from lakes, phosphorus pollution from point sources is gradually becoming less important. Agricultural sources of phosphorus are still important and need increased attention to achieve good status in lakes and rivers, cf. the Water Framework Directive [5]. The improvements in some lakes have generally been relatively slow despite the pollution abatement measures taken. This is at least partly because of internal phosphorus loading from phosphorus stored in the lake sediments  and because the ecosystems can be resistant to improvement and thereby remains in a poor state. Such problems may call for restoration measures, particularly in shallow lakes.

Specific policy question: Are nitrate concentrations in our groundwater decreasing?

Present concentration of nitrate in groundwater bodies in European countries

Note: The number of groundwater monitoring bodies in each country is given in brackets

Data source:

Waterbase (version 6)

Downloads and more info

Nitrate concentrations in groundwater between 1992 and 2005 in different regions of Europe.

Note: The annual mean concentrations for all stations were averaged per region in the regional aggregations

Data source:

Waterbase (Version 6)

Downloads and more info

Specific assessment

Present concentrations per country (Figure 2)

See also WISE interactive maps:  Nitrates in groundwater by country

The concentrations of nitrate in groundwater in the different European countries generally reflect the relative importance and intensity of agricultural activities above the groundwater bodies. 19 of the 31 countries with available information for 2005 had groundwater sites exceeding the parametric value of 50 mg/l NO3 [1]. Countries with the greatest agricultural land use and highest population densities (such as Belgium, Denmark, Germany and United Kingdom) generally had higher nitrate concentrations than those with the lowest (such as Baltic and Northern countries), reflecting the impact of emissions of nitrate from agriculture.

 

Between 1992 and 2005, there was a statistically significant decreasing trend in 32 % of groundwater sites for which there were available data (no graph shown). However, 11 % of groundwater bodies also showed increasing trends of nitrate over the same period.

 

Comparison for different regions of Europe (Figure 3)

Nitrate concentrations in groundwater vary between the different regions of Europe. The relatively high nitrate concentration in groundwater in Western and Eastern European countries can be seen as consequence of the intensive agriculture. Northern Europe generally has considerably lower nitrate concentrations in its groundwater.

Specific policy question: Are concentrations of nutrients in our surface waters decreasing?

Present concentration of phosphorus in rivers (left; ortophosphate) and lakes (right; total phosphorus) in European countries.

Note: The number of monitoring stations in each country is given in brackets

Data source:

Waterbase (Version 6)

Downloads and more info

Phosphorus concentrations in rivers (left; ortophosphate) and lakes (right; total phosphorus) between 1990 and 2005 in different regions of Europe.

Note: The annual mean concentrations for all stations were averaged per region in the regional aggregations

Data source:

Waterbase (Version 6)

Downloads and more info

Present concentration of nitrate (mg N/l) in rivers (left) and lakes (right) in European countries.

Note: The number of monitoring stations in each country is given in brackets

Data source:

Waterbase (Version 6)

Downloads and more info

Nitrate concentrations in rivers between 1990 and 2005 in different regions of Europe.

Note: The annual mean concentrations for all stations were averaged per region in the regional aggregations

Data source:

Waterbase (Version 6)

Downloads and more info

Specific assessment

Nitrate

Present concentrations per country (Figure 4).

See also WISE interactive maps: Mean annual Nitrates in rivers

Countries with the greatest agricultural land use and highest population densities (such as Belgium, Denmark and the United Kingdom), generally had higher nitrate concentrations in rivers and lakes than those with the lowest proportion of agricultural area and population density (such as Estonia, Norway, Finland, and Sweden).

 

Trends in nitrate concentration (see also Figure 1a):

Around 35 % and 38 % of monitoring stations on Europe's rivers and lakes, respectively, showed a statistically significant decreasing trend of nitrate concentrations between 1992 and 2005, indicating a partial success of legislative measures to reduce nitrate pollution (no graph shown). However, 3% of the river stations and 4 % of lake stations showed increasing trends of nitrate over the same period.

 

Comparison for different regions of Europe (Figure 5):

Nitrate concentrations in inland surface waters vary between the different regions of Europe, particularly in rivers. The average nitrogen was the double in western European rivers compared to eastern European rivers. The rivers in the northern countries had low nitrate concentrations. The differences in nitrate levels in the three regions reflect the differences in agricultural pressures being highest in western countries and  lowest in the northern countries.

 

Since mid-1990s the river nitrate concentrations have been reduced by 11 %, 8 % and 6 % in the western, northern and eastern rivers, respectively.

 

Phosphorus

Present concentration per country (Figure 6). 

See also WISE interactive maps: Mean annual Orthophosphate in rivers & Mean annual Total Phosphorous in lakes

Low concentrations of phosphorus in rivers and lakes are found in the northern countries and in the countries in the Alps, while the countries in central and southern Europe generally have a high proportion of rivers with high phosphorus concentration. Phosphorus levels are low in countries with low population density, and/or with high degree of waste water treatment with phosphorus removal.

 

Trends per station.

Around 34 % and 18 % of monitoring stations for Europe's rivers and lakes, respectively, showed a statistically significant decreasing trend of orthophosphate (OP) and total phosphorus (TP) concentrations between 1992 and 2005  (no graph shown). (The data series from lakes are sparser than for rivers, and dominated by lakes from the northern countries, therefore the trend analysis of these data may be less representative). Most of the countries assessed (10 of 15 countries) had a higher proportion of river stations with decreasing OP concentration than those with increasing trends. This decrease reflects the success of legislative measures to reduce emissions of phosphorus such as those required by the Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive [4].

 

Comparison for different regions of Europe (Figure 7): 

The northern European countries have low concentrations of orthophosphate (OP) in rivers and total phosphorus (TP) in lakes compared to the other European regions. The low concentrations in northern Europe is due to both the relatively low population densities, low agriculture intensity, and the high level of treatment of sewage effluents including the removal of phosphorus. During the 1990s, the phosphorus concentration of rivers and lakes was in general stable (northern) or markedly decreasing (eastern and western Europe), reflecting improvements in wastewater treatment with increasing proportions of sewage effluent subject to phosphorus removal. Also the change to phosphate-free detergents has contributed to lower phosphorus concentration.

 

References

[1] The Drinking Water Directive (DWD): Council Directive 98/83/EC of 3 November 1998 on the quality of water intended for human consumption.
http://ec.europa.eu/environment/water/water-drink/index_en.html

[2] COM (2007) 120 final. On implementation of Council Directive 91/676/EEC concerning the protection of waters against pollution caused by nitrates from agricultural sources for the period 2000-2003. Report from the Commission. COM, Brussels.
http://ec.europa.eu/environment/water/water-nitrates/report.html

[3]  The Nitrates Directive: Directive 91/676/EEC on nitrates from agricultural sources.
http://ec.europa.eu/environment/water/water-nitrates/index_en.html

[4] The Urban Waste Water Directive (UWWD): Council Directive 91/271/EEC concerning urban waste-water treatment.  http://ec.europa.eu/environment/water/water-urbanwaste/index_en.html

[5] The Water Framework Directive (WFD): Directive 2000/60/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council establishing a framework for the Community action in the field of water policy. http://ec.europa.eu/environment/water/water-framework/index_en.html

[6] EEA Core Set of Indicators CSI01 Emissions of acidifying substances and CSI05 Exposure of ecosystems to acidification, eutrophication and ozone

 

Data sources

More information about this indicator

See this indicator specification for more details.

Contacts and ownership

EEA Contact Info

Peter Kristensen

Ownership

EEA Management Plan

2010 (note: EEA internal system)

Dates

Frequency of updates

Updates are scheduled every 1 year in July-September (Q3)
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