Are nutrient concentrations in Europe's freshwaters decreasing?

Policy Question
Indicator codes: CSI 020 , WAT 003

Key messages

(14 Mar 2012)

•    Average nitrate concentrations in European groundwaters increased from 1992 to 1998, but have declined again since 2004.

•    The average nitrate concentration in European rivers decreased by approximately 13% between 1992 and 2009 (from 2.5 to 2.1 mg/l N), reflecting the effect of measures to reduce agricultural inputs of nitrate.

•    Average orthophosphate concentrations in European rivers have decreased markedly over the last two decades, being halved between 1992 and 2009 (52% decrease). Also average lake phosphorus concentration decreased over the period 1992-2009 (by 22%), the major part of the decrease occurring in the first half of the period. The decrease in phosphorus concentrations reflects both improvement in wastewater treatment and reduction in phosphorus in detergents.

•    Overall, reductions in the levels of freshwater nutrients over the last two decades primarily reflect improvements in wastewater treatment. Emissions from agriculture continue to be a significant source.

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