Are nitrate concentrations in Europe's groundwater decreasing?

Policy Question
Indicator codes: CSI 020 , WAT 003

Key messages

  • Nutrient conditions in European surface waters have improved over recent decades. However, there has been no overall decrease in the nitrate concentration in groundwater, which has been more or less stable since 1997, although it has decreased since 2014 and is currently closer to the 1992 level.
  • On average, the nitrate concentration in European rivers decreased by 0.02 milligrams per litre of nitrogen (mg N/l) per year (0.8 % per year) between 1992 and 2017, but the concentration has levelled off since around 2010. This decrease is likely related to effects of measures to reduce agricultural inputs of nitrate and improvements in waste water treatment. However, the apparent stabilisation of river nitrate concentrations in recent years may call for further measures to be taken.
  • The average phosphate concentration in European rivers has decreased markedly over the last two-three decades (by 0.002 milligrams per litre of phosphorous (mg P/l) per year (1.6 % per year). The average total phosphorus concentration in lakes also decreased over the period 1992-2017 (0.0004 mg P/l per year (0.9 %)). The decrease in phosphorus concentration is likely related to improvements in waste water treatment and the reduction of phosphorus in detergents.

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