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on the environment


SOER Country

Freshwater (Poland)

Why should we care about this issue

Published: 26 Nov 2010 Modified: 23 Nov 2010

Poland is characterised by relatively limited water resources of around 1500 m3/year/capita, a large population and different types of urbanisation and land use patterns. The country’s water resources per capita, are low − representing only 36 % of the European average. Due to the limited water resources, it is difficult to supply water to some parts of Poland. Water-consuming industries, demographic processes and natural geographic and hydrographic conditions cause severe water deficits. There is also considerable variation in river water flow during periods of heavy rain and when there are large quantities of flood water, including run-off from the mountains in the south. All these factors impede the rational management of water, and the limited capacity of artificial reservoirs does not facilitate the elimination of the problems arising from periodic excesses and deficits of surface water. The main obstacle to supplying the population with water is the limited availability of high-quality water. However, the quantitative problems have decreased significantly over the last decade due to a large reduction in the volume of water consumed by industry and households.

The state and impacts

Published: 26 Nov 2010 Modified: 08 Apr 2011

A new system of water status monitoring and classification has now been in place in Poland since 2007. The results of surveillance monitoring indicate that 6.5% of the bodies of flowing water covered by surveys in 2007-2008, meet agreed environmental objectives, achieving a good (class II) or very good (class I) ecological status. The results of an assessment of the ecological potential of artificial and heavily-modified bodies of flowing water are comparable: approximately 4.5 % of those monitored in 2007-2008 meet environmental objectives. However, it should be stressed that these figures are not indicative of the state of water in Poland as a whole, but only show the results of measurements taken from the part of monitoring points in the monitoring network. The full picture will only be known after the completion of a full surveillance monitoring programme, which assumes conducting research on a different set of water bodies each year (so as to assess all water bodies in Poland during a six-year water management cycle). At the same time, as a result of the ongoing work to complete the assessment system and verify the class limits based on an increasing amount of biological data available, the final results of assessment for all water bodies may vary from those presented below.

Fig. 1: Classification of the ecological status of rivers included in surveillance monitoring, 2007-2008 (Source: GIOŚ /PMŚ). The assessment covers different bodies of surface water for the individual years.

Nitrogen concentrations for monitoring points located at the mouths of the two largest Polish rivers (Vistula and Odra) have remained stable over the last three years and much lower than at the end of the 1990s when there was a simultaneous drop in average flows.

Fig. 2: Average nitrogen concentrations at monitoring points Vistula-Kiezmark and Odra-Krajnik Dolny compared to average flows in 1998-2008 (Source: GIOŚ/PMŚ)

Polish lakes are mostly eutrophic reservoirs. Around half of them are characterised by adverse morphometric and hydrographic features and geomorphological conditions favouring the natural process of lake ageing. This means that a eutrophic state is the natural state for many Polish lakes. In total, 98 of the 208 lakes monitored in 2007-2008 were assessed as good or very good.

Fig. 3: Combined results of lake classification by ecological status, as monitored in 2007-2008 (Source: GIOŚ/PMŚ)

Analysis of the data for the nine reference lakes examined in 1999-2008 indicates that the essential parameters for eutrophication (concentration of phosphorus and total nitrogen, concentration of chlorophyl “a” and water transparency) remained stable, although they varied from year to year.

Fig. 4: Changes in total nitrogen concentrations in the waters of the reference lakes, 1999-2008 (Source: GIOŚ/PMŚ)

Eutrophication in flowing waters was assessed based on data from 2004-2007. It shows that eutrophication affects about 62 % of watercourses (eutrophication was found in 2 016 out of 3 268 monitoring points used for the assessment). In lakes, this phenomenon occurs in 268 of the 432 lakes examined.

An examination of groundwater quality made at monitoring stations of the national groundwater quality monitoring network in 2007 shows that the chemical status of groundwater (classes I, II, III) was good at around 80 % of the stations examined, while 20 % had poor chemical status (classes IV and V).


Results of groundwater quality examination at monitoring stations of the national groundwater quality monitoring network as part of operational and surveillance monitoring in 2007



Monitoring stations

Groundwater chemical status (% of stations )




class I


class II


class III


class IV


class V



10.20 %

42.63 %

25.62 %

18.14 %

3.40 %



7.77 %

53.71 %

21.38 %

13.96 %

3.18 %



8.84 %

48.86 %

23.24 %

15.79 %

3.28 %

The chemical status of groundwater bodies was assessed based on examinations carried out at monitoring points. These indicated that, of the 161 ground water bodies selected across the country, only 11 ground water bodies (9.5% of the total area) had a poor chemical status.

Fig. 5: Assessment of the chemical status of groundwater bodies (Source: GIOŚ/PMŚ)

At the majority of the monitoring points of the national groundwater monitoring network nitrate concentrations did not exceed the threshold value of 50 mg/dm3. Moreover, nitrate concentrations were low (below 25 mg/dm3) at about 95 % of the stations.


River monitoring:
Lake monitoring:
Groundwater monitoring:

The key drivers and pressures

Published: 26 Nov 2010 Modified: 08 Apr 2011

Water quality in Poland depends to a great extent on the management of river basins. The smallest quantity of substances carried from river basins to surface water comes from forest areas, while the largest quantity comes from industrial and urban areas.

The quality of river water is affected most by improperly treated municipal and industrial sewage discharge and saline water discharged from coal mines.

Fig. 6: Industrial and municipal waste discharged into water or soil (Source: GUS)

Fig. 7: Municipal and industrial effluent requiring treatment discharged into water/ground (Source: GUS)

Farming and animal husbandry is still a source of pollution. Often farmland is directly adjacent to the edges of rivers or lakes and there is a lack of protective barriers in the form of trees and shrub belts along the river line. This exacerbates the run-off of agricultural pollution into the water. In 2009, the total land area used for agriculture in Poland was 189 800 km2, covering 60.7 % of the country.

In the economic year 2007/2008, consumption of mineral phosphate fertilisers in terms of P2O5 was 42.6 % higher than in 2004/2005, while the consumption of nitrogen fertilisers was 31 % higher. On average, over 28.6 kg of phosphate fertilisers and nearly 71 kg of nitrogen fertilisers were used per hectare of agricultural land in 2007/2008.

Fig. 8: Consumption of mineral fertilisers per hectare of agricultural land (Source: GUS)

The high concentration of industries, particularly along the upper parts of the Oder and Vistula rivers, has caused significant changes to topographic features and water courses. In the 1990s there was a marked decline in water abstraction. This was due to reduced production and restructuring in industry, and a gradual decrease in water consumption for irrigation and municipal management. Poland has made significant progress in reducing the impact of GDP growth on the abstraction of water.

Fig. 9: Water abstraction in Poland for the national economy and population in 1998-2008 by purpose (Source: GUS)

Biogenic pollution in minicipal waste water

According to the Helsinki Commission’s HELCOM (Helsinki Commission: PLC-5  report, the total nitrogen load from industry direct to surface water amounted to 5 311 tonnes in 2006, which was 38 % higher than in 2000. For phosphorus originating from industrial sources the total load amounted to 184 tonnes, a reduction of over50 % on 2000.

In 2006, the total nitrogen load from municipal sources to surface water was 34 053 tonnes, 10 % less than in 2000. The phosphorus load from municipal sources to surface water was 3 546 tonnes, almost 30 % less than in 2000. Small amounts of nitrogen and phosphorus were also discharged from fish farming centres.

Area pollution

According to the HELCOM PLC-5 report, the nitrogen load from area pollution sources amounted to 183 249 tonnes in 2006, which was 3 % less than in 2000. The phosphorus load from area pollution sources was 10 294 tonnes, which was over 22 % less than in 2000. Agriculture, and the application of mineral fertilisers and animal husbandry in particular, has the greatest impact on the volume of area loads.

Fig. 10: Balance of biogenic pollution in 2006 (source: HELCOM PLC-5)

The 2020 outlook

Published: 26 Nov 2010 Modified: 23 Nov 2010

The main medium-term goal until 2016 is to rationalise the management of surface water and groundwater so as to protect the national economy from water deficits, guard against flooding and increase the self-financing of water management. The priority will be to maximise the efficiency of water resources for industrial and consumer use and increase water retention.

The national environmental policy for 2009-2012 and its 2016 outlook seek to achieve and/or maintain the good quality status of all water, including the preservation and restoration of the ecological continuity of watercourses by 2015. Poland needs to reduce the total load of nitrogen and phosphorus in municipal waste water by 75 %, complete the construction of a national network of waste water treatment plants and sewage systems for all conurbations over 2 000 PE (Population equivalent)  and implement the Baltic Sea Action Programme for the protection of waters against pollution by 2015.

Existing and planned responses

Published: 26 Nov 2010 Modified: 08 Apr 2011

Water protection in Poland has a strong legal basis in the form of the Water Act and its implementing regulations, the Environment Protection Law, the Inland Waterways Act and the Fisheries and Inland Fisheries Act (

Strategic documents:


Poland is currently working on a National Strategy for Water Management until 2030, which will formulate the main lines of action to ensure universal access to clean water and the reduction of the risks associated with floods and droughts.

Current programmes and initiatives limiting the pollution of waters with phosphorus and nitrogen in Poland are as follows:

  • The National Programme for Municipal Waste Water Treatment (NPMWWT) which aims to construct, expand and modernise communal sewage networks and waste water treatment plants and implement the provisions of the Accession Treaty (referring to Council Directive 91/271/EEC). The programme assumes that Poland will achieve the EU quality standards for waste water discharged into the aquatic environment from sewage treatment plants and achieve a 75 % reduction in the total nitrogen and phosphorus load in municipal waste water across its territory in order to protect surface waters, including marine waters, from eutrophication.
  • The HELCOM Baltic Sea Action Plan – one of the objectives is to improve the ecological status of the waters of the Baltic Sea, mainly by gradually reducing nutrient discharges from land-based sources entering the Baltic through river basins, or as a result of wet and dry atmospheric deposition. The objectives of the Baltic Sea Action Plan are consistent with the objectives set out in Poland’s water and environmental programmes and the tasks defined to prevent eutrophication do not go beyond the actions set out in other programmes.
  • A law limiting the phosphorus content in detergents and washing powers to 6 % has been in force in Poland since 1991
  • An obligation to mark detergents and washing powders, indicating an approved phosphorus content below 6 % of product weight has been in force since December 1995. Certificates are issued by the Polish Centre for Testing and Certification (PCTC).

In the framework of agricultural pollution prevention activities in Poland over 900 projects to allow the secure manure storage have been carried out. Educational activities and guidance on good agricultural practices have also been provided. The result of NPMWWT implementation is productivity growth of over 35 % in municipal sewage treatment plants during the period 1995-2008. At the same time, the percentage of the population served by municipal sewage treatment plants has increased from 42 % to 63.1 % (86.9 % for urban and 25.7 % for rural areas). The number of sewage treatment plants serving villages has risen from 433 to 2 213. In 2008, 98.6 % of cities were served by sewage treatment plants.

Fig. 11 Urban population using water supply-sewage networks and sewage treatment plants (Source: GUS)


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