Why should we care about this issue
The availability of water and well-functioning freshwater ecosystems is essential to both humankind and nature. Large-scale use of groundwater is one of the causes of desiccation of nature in the Netherlands. Because of climate change, the risk of river flooding has increased.
Link to Water Management Policy in the 21st Century:
Due to climate change, the current strategies to cope with water shortage and freshwater supply in the Netherlands need to be revised. This is very complex because of the combination of technical and social aspects, e.g. the relationship between different regions within the Netherlands (Lake IJssel and the southwestern delta area), the relationship between the so-called regional goals and regional usages of water, and the consequences of the national strategy for river water discharge. In the ’National Waterplan’, various policy principles are stated with respect to water supply in the Netherlands.
The state and impacts
State and impacts have been described in ‘Focus on Water’ (Water in Beeld (WIB)) in Section 5.1 and further on.
In the last 20 years, the quality of the large rivers has stabilised (Figure 1). When one focuses on specific parameters, such as nitrogen and phosphorus, a considerable improvement is shown (Figure 2).
Figure 1: Percentage of measurements below the Water Framework Directive (WFD) standards.
Figure 2: Concentration of N and P in large rivers in the Netherlands and the target concentration levels. Source: RWS Waterdienst
This improvement is mainly due to policies on fertilisers (agriculture), and the treatment of urban and industrial wastewater.
The ecological quality of 30 to 40 % of surface waters exceeded the Water Framework Directive (WFD) standards, because of among other things high concentrations of phosphorus, nitrate, and pesticides (Figure 3).
Figure 3: Ecological quality of surface waters in the Netherlands in 2008
In the WFD, priority substances (chemical compounds) have been chosen as an indicator of the chemical quality of water bodies. All EU Member States have to make sure these substances are phased out of the environment.
Figure 4: Chemical quality of surface waters in the Netherlands in 2008
Because the WFD uses the ’one-out-all-out’ principle, meaning that if one parameter scores negative, the whole water body will get a negative status, it is difficult to see trends in figures similar to those of Figures 3 and 4. Therefore, another visualisation is used in reports such as ‘Focus on Water’. In this visualisation (Figure 1) the various parameters are accumulated, and the amount of parameters which score positive are shown. Herewith a trend is shown over multiple years. Figures 3 and 4 are used within the river basin management plans (Stroomgebiedbeheerplannen (SGBP).
Water temperature is of growing concern. The number of water intake stops during summer periods is growing, thus creating significant problems for water cooling plants.
Also, the use of freshwater for the production of drinking water is hampered by the presence of chemical substances, such as pesticides and hormone disrupters.
The key drivers and pressures
The pressures at national level are partly from outside sources. Due to the intrusion of salt water from the sea in waterways and groundwater, the quality of the water is affected, as well as its application in agriculture.
Also the pollution (nutrients and other compounds) of the large rivers Rhine, Meuse and Scheldt is caused by sources from neighboring upstream countries for over 60 % (Figure 5).
Figure 5: N and P from inland sources and via Rhine, Meuse and Scheldt
For the smaller inland surface waters and groundwater, agriculture, urban wastewater treatment plants (UWWTP) and industry are the main pressures (Figure 6).
Figure 6: Input of nitrogen and phosphorus to surface waters
Figure 7: Input of various compounds to surface waters
The input from UWWTP and industry has decreased considerably in the past years. In 2007, nearly 98 % of the domestic wastewater and 93 % of the industrial wastewater was treated in UWWTP. At large industrial sites, the wastewater is often treated in private treatment plants. Figure 7 shows the main sources for different compounds in the various river basins.
The efficiency of the treatment of N and P at UWWTP has increased from about 40 % in 1981 to about 80 % in 1997 (Figure 8). For N in particular the increase was due to the requirements of the EU Directive on Urban Wastewater.
The use of freshwater systems for drinking water, shipping, industrial intakes as well as all other uses have been at constant levels during the past 30 years.
Figure 8: Efficiency of urban wastewater treatment plants in the Netherlands (1981-1997) (CBS)
Due to the expected climate change the demand for water will increase and precipitation in summer will decrease. The availability of freshwater will decrease. The degree of this decrease will vary from region to region. Not only will this have its consequences for the water level of rivers and ditches, and therefore overall water levels, it will also have consequences for agriculture, inland shipping, nature, and water quality. Due to higher water temperatures the amount of algae will increase.
The 2020 outlook
The goal is to improve the quality of both groundwater and surface water, complying with legal (EU) standards (Water Framework Directive). It is expected that the concentration of nitrate in groundwater will improve, but not enough to meet the standard (50 mg/l) in 2027 (Figure 9). Also, by 2027, surface waters are expected to reach approximately 40 to 60 % of the WFD EU standards for N and P (Figure 10). This is also the case for the ecological quality of regional waters (Figure 11).
As a result of the European Nitrate Directive, the nitrogen surplus in Dutch agriculture decreased by almost 40% between 1992 and 2007. The average nitrate concentration during the winter period in fresh surface waters has been decreasing since 1998. Both nitrate content and eutrophication are decreasing. However, it takes several years before the effects of policy measures taken by farmers are seen in the water quality. It is therefore expected that it will be some years before the effects of recent policy measures from the current action programme (2004-2009) are seen in the water quality and that water quality will therefore only show further improvement in the 2010-2015 period.
The implementation of WFD measures is expected to result in a good water condition in about one quarter of all water bodies by 2015. For the remaining three-quarters, this will be reached after 2015. Because EU targets are expected not to be met by 2015, there will be a phasing to 2027 (time exemptions). This requires studying the river basin management plans (Stroomgebiedbeheerplannen (SGBP)) http://www.kaderrichtlijnwater.nl/uitvoering/nationaal/item_27248/. In addition, the effects of climate change are being studied further. See also the Veerman report on: http://www.deltacommissie.com/
Figure 9: Nitrate concentration in upper groundwater levels in sandy areas
Figure 10: Regional waters which meet the EU WFD standards for N and P
Figure 11: Regional waters which meet the ecological EU WFD standards
Existing and planned responses
For the Dutch water safety policy, the starting point is a basic safety level for each citizen, a socially acceptable risk for large groups of people, and an economically optimal safety level.
The Netherlands policy plans focus on reducing the chances of flooding from the sea (e.g., through suppletion of sand in coastal defense systems), and flooding from rivers. For the latter the possibilities to retain water in inland water basins will be increased. The large rivers will be adjusted to be able to manage the larger outflows which are expected in the future.
For water quality, nearly 3000 national and regional measures have been laid down in SGBPs, for which regional and national plans have provided the building blocks. The SGBPs state the current water quality for each basin area, as well as the objectives for improving this quality and their corresponding measures. For the Netherlands, two approaches are combined to improve water quality: dealing with substances at their source, and improving the organisation of water systems.
Two programmes which have already been implemented dealing with water quality issues are the high water protection programme (Hoogwaterbeschermingsprogramma (HWBP)) http://www.rijkswaterstaat.nl/water/veiligheid/bescherming_tegen_het_water/organisatie/hwbp/ which deals with primary dyke reinforcements and drainage systems, and Room for the River (Ruimte voor de Rivier) http://www.ruimtevoorderivier.nl, with around 40 large-scale measurements meant to protect river basin areas against flooding. Measures vary from digging out riparian meadows and dyke displacement to lowering groynes and enlarging summer riverbeds. For the Meuse River, specific measures will be taken to protect against high water, whereby the river is deepened and widened, combined with flood channels, retention basins and dyke reinforcements.
As of 2008 water board taxes have changed. Three new fees have been created. (1.) a so-called water system fee; to ensure ’dry feet and a clean freshwater supply’, (2.) a purification fee, to ensure treatment of waste water, and (3.) a pollution fee to allow discharges directly on freshwaters. The primary goal of the WFD is improvement of the ecological quality of water bodies, and therefore the most important benefit of measures taken originating out of the WFD. It is difficult to express this benefit in financial benefits. It is clear, though, that if freshwater is cleaner, and water bodies look nicer, it will be more attractive to live nearby.
For references, please go to www.eea.europa.eu/soer or scan the QR code.
This briefing is part of the EEA's report The European Environment - State and Outlook 2015. The EEA is an official agency of the EU, tasked with providing information on Europe’s environment.
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