Are nitrate concentrations in Europe's groundwater decreasing?

Policy Question
Indicator codes: CSI 020 , WAT 003

Key messages

(29 Jan 2018)

  • Nutrient conditions in European surface waters have improved over recent decades, while there has been no overall decline in nitrate concentrations in groundwater.  
  • Since 2007, average nitrate concentrations in European groundwater have declined and are currently closer to the 1992 level.
  • On average, nitrate concentration in European rivers declined by 0.02 milligrams per liter of nitrogen (mg N/l), or 0.8 %, per year over the period 1992-2015.
  • The decline in nitrate concentration reflects the effect of measures to reduce agricultural inputs of nitrate, as well as improvements in waste water treatment.
  • The average orthophosphate concentration in European rivers has decreased markedly over the last two decades (by 0.002 milligrams per liter of phosphorous (mg P/l), or 1.8 %, per year.
  • The average total phosphorus concentration in lakes also decreased over the period 1992-2015 (0.0004 mg P/l, or 0.9 % per year).
  • The decrease in phosphorus concentration reflects both improvements in waste water treatment and the reduction of phosphorus in detergents.

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