Nutrients in rivers
Assessment made on 01 May 2004
ClassificationWater (Primary theme)
Coasts and seas
- WEU 002
Policy issue: Are nutrient concentrations in surface waters decreasing?
Concentrations of organic matter, ammonium and phosphate have generally decreased in European rivers during the 1990s reflecting the general improvement in wastewater treatment over this period.
Concentrations of nitrate have generally remained steady in European rivers during the 1990s.
The concentrations of orthophosphate, total ammonium and organic matter have been steadily decreasing in European rivers in general over the last 10 years. In EU countries this is because of the measures introduced by European legislation, in particular the Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive which has increased levels of waste water treatment with, in many cases, increased tertiary treatment, often involving the removal of nutrients. There has also been an improvement in the level of waste water treatment in Accession countries though not to the same levels as in EU Member States. In addition, the transition recession in the economies of Accession countries may have played a part in the decreasing (phosphorus) trends because of the closure of potentially polluting industries and a decrease in agricultural production leading to less use of nitrogen and phosphorus fertilisers. At the European level there is no clear trend (down or up) in concentrations of nitrate in rivers. This is because measures to reduce agricultural inputs of nitrate have not been implemented in a consistent way across EU countries and because the probable time lags between reduction of agricultural nitrogen inputs and soil surpluses, and resultant reductions in surface water concentrations of nitrate.
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