Belgium is bounded by Germany, Luxembourg, France, the North Sea and the Netherlands. It has an area of 30,500 km2 and a population of 10 million. Belgium is divided into three regions: the Flanders region, the Brussels region and the Walloon region.

Belgium is primarily drained by two large river systems, the river Meuse and the river Schelde that drain approx. 44 and 33 per cent of the total land area, respectively. Both rivers arise in France and run north, the Schelde draining the western part of Belgium and discharging into the Schelde Estuary, while the Meuse with tributaries in Germany drains the eastern part of Belgium and runs north into the Netherlands where it discharges near Rotterdam. The Albertkanal connects city of Antwerpen and the river Meuse. There are only few natural lakes in Belgium. Belgium has a 60 km long coastal zone (North Sea).


Involved Institutions

Due to the changes in the constitution, Belgium has been divided into three regions, each of them responsible for environmental affairs.


Flanders region

The Flemish Environmental Agency (the 'Vlaamse Milieumaatschappij' - VMM) is a para-governmental institution complementary to the environmental administration. One of the important tasks of the VMM is to establish and run the monitoring programme on surface water quality. The VMM also runs the monitoring programmes on industrial and urban discharge and ambient air quality. The VMM calculates rates and collects taxes on water pollution. Another task of the VMM is the annual publication of the results of the monitoring programmes. The VMM also acts as an advisory body to the Administration of the Environment, Nature and Land Planning (AMINAL) with regard to discharge permit procedures.

The main objectives of the water quality monitoring network are :

  1. measurement of the parameters for which water quality objectives have been set;
  2. determination of the water quality by means of indices and water quality classes;
  3. discovery of unknown discharges and determination of the origin of specific pollutants and their impact upon water quality;
  4. comparison of measurement data with water quality standards;
  5. annual compilation of the pollution loads per (sub)hydrographic basin.

Since 1989 the VMM physico-chemical monitoring network (R1) has consisted of more than 1,600 sites in the Flemish water courses ranging from canals and navigable rivers to municipal water courses. The basic variables measured are: temperature, dissolved oxygen concentrations, chemical oxygen demand, nitrogen (NH4-N, NO2-N, NO3-N), phosphate, total phosphorus, chloride, conductivity and pH. For a selected number of sites the following variables are added: Biochemical Oxygen Demand, Kjeldahl-nitrogen, sulphates and suspended matter. The annual sampling frequency ranges from 8 to 12. Heavy metals are measured only at locations in the vicinity of industrial discharges and regional borders. The samples of the physico-chemical monitoring network are taken by different regional laboratories.

Since 1989 the VMM biological monitoring network (R2) has consisted of 1,300 different sites at which a Belgian Biotic Index (BBI) based on the presence of aquatic macroinvertebrates as water quality indicators is applied. The diversity and relative sensitivity of these macroinvertebrates are a measure of the degree of pollution at the sampling location. Biological monitoring network samples are all taken by VMM biologists.


Walloon region

The Division de la Police de l'Environnement (DPE) is the institution responsible for monitoring activities in the Walloon region. The DPE carries out physico-chemical and biological monitoring throughout the region. The general physico-chemical network (R5) consists of 90 monitoring sites being sampled 5 times annually, and 7 transboundary sites that are sampled monthly. The transboundary sites are included in the EU Information Exchange Programme. A total of 108 variables are measured at most sampling sites and the results are published as annual administrative reports and periodic thematic quality index maps on organic pollution. The R6 programme covers 49 waterbodies designated as protected. Sampling frequency is usually monthly and between 16 and 28 variables are measured. The biological monitoring programme (R8) covers approx. 410 sites in the running waters of the Walloon region. In addition to the Belgian Biotic Index of macroinvertebrates, phytoplankton and macrophytes and a few basic physico-chemical variables are determined. The programme consists of a general part, a protected waters part (corresponding to R5, R6) and a case-study part (industrial pollution). As for the physico-chemical network administrative reports and quality index maps are published. There is no separate lake monitoring programme, but some reservoirs are included in the general river monitoring programme (R5).

Table 3.2: Belgian surface water monitoring programmes

No. Name Responsible institution Variables Period of operation &

Sampling Frequency (SF)



Data & national


Rivers and streams
R1 Physico-chemical monitoring network VMM 11-16 physical and chemical variables Since 1989
SF: 8-12/yr, sometimes 26-52/yr
Flanders region
1000 sampling sites
Database and annual report: VMM
R2 Biological monitoring network VMM Macroinvertebrates, Belgian Biotic Index Since 1989
SF: 1/yr.
Flanders region
900 sampling sites
Database and annual report: VMM


Measuring network suspended solids VMM Water & suspended solids: organic micropollutants & heavy metals Since: Sep. 1994
SF 3/yr


Flanders Region
20 sampling sites
Reports after each campaign
R4 Measuring network water soils VMM Heavy metals & organic micropollutants Study undertaken in 1991-92 and will be repeated in 1995-1996 Flanders Region Reports after each campaign
R5 Physico-chemical monitoring of surface waters DPE Up to 108 physical and chemical variables 1. network: 5/yr.
2. network: 12/yr
Walloon region 90 sites covering main rivers, streams, canal, and reservoirs.
2. network 7 sites on transbordering water courses

Database & annual report: DPE.
R6 Physico-chemical monitoring of designated protected waters 3 networks
1) Freshwater for
2) Surface water for drinking water
3) Natural water networks
DPE 16-28 physical & chemical variables 1) 12/yr
2) 2-8/yr
3) 12/yr
Walloon region.

1) 38 sampling
2) 5 sampling sites
3) 6 sampling sites

Database & annual report: DPE.
R7 Alarm network. DPE 6-12 physical & chemical variables continuous (every 3 minutes) River Meuse, 3 sites.
River Sambre, 2 sites.
Database & annual report: DPE.
R8 Biological quality assessment of water courses 1980-92:IHE 1993-: DPE Macroinvertebrates, Belgian Biotic Index, 5 physical & chemical variables once every 3 years.
case-studies: according to occurance
Walloon region.

200+150+60 sampling sites

Database & annual report: DPE.
R9 Bathing water 1982-89: IHE 1990-: DPE physical, chemical & microbiological variables 9 samples from mid-May to mid-September Walloon region

47 sampling sites in fresh surface water

Database & annual report: DPE.
R10 Hydrometric networks. DPE &
flow, water height 4 measures per hour Walloon region

103+145 hydrometric stations.

Database: DPE &


VMM - Flemish Environmental Agency / Vlaamse Milieumaatschappij; IHE - Institute for Hygiene and Epidemiology; DPE - Division de la Police de l'Environnement; SETHY - Ministére de l'Equipement et des Transport



Geographic coverage


Filed under:
Filed under: freshwater
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