Despite improvements in some regions, diffuse pollution from agriculture remains a major cause of the poor water quality currently observed in parts of Europe. Agriculture contributes 50-80 % of the total nitrogen load observed in Europe’s freshwater, with point discharges, including from wastewater treatment plants, providing much of the remainder.
In northern Europe, over 80 % of the population is connected to municipal treatment works via a sewer network while in central Europe the figure is above 95 %. Elsewhere in Europe, connection rates are lower, although in the case of the newer EU Member States, this is explained by the later compliance dates agreed in the accession treaties.
The quality of inland bathing waters – rivers and lakes – in the EU has improved significantly since 1990. In 2009, 89 % of inland bathing areas complied with mandatory values, while 71 % complied with the more stringent guide values.
A substantial proportion of Europe’s freshwaters are at risk of not achieving good status under the EU Water Framework Directive by 2015 (40 % of surface waters and 30 % of groundwaters, in 2004).
In 2008, ten of 12 waterborne disease outbreaks reported in the EU were linked to the contamination of private wells.