Time is running out – WFD fact sheets for four important substance groups

Netherlands risks failing to meet objectives for drinking water sources in WFD

This year, KWR will produce a series of four fact sheets on urgent substance groups in the context of the WFD objectives for drinking water sources. We are working with Vewin here. By 2027 at the latest, surface water and groundwater quality must be up to standard. The sources of drinking water must be protected and quality must not deteriorate. In addition, the level of treatment needed for the production of drinking water must be reduced. The first two fact sheets (on nitrate and emerging substances) show that the Netherlands is at risk of missing the deadline for the WFD objectives. Time is running out.

The four fact sheets cover nitrate, emerging substances, pesticides and pharmaceuticals. The researchers outline the extent and sources of the problem with regard to drinking water sources, the Dutch and European approaches for these substance groups, and possible avenues for solutions. The sources of these substance groups vary in nature. For example, agriculture is an important source of nitrate. Emerging substances come mainly from industrial or domestic waste water. However, in all the substance groups, the Netherlands is at risk of missing the 2027 WFD deadline if there is no improvement.

Nitrate leaching threatens groundwater quality

The nitrate fact sheet shows that this substance is a threat to groundwater quality. At 34 drinking water extraction sites in the east and south of the country, nitrate leaching is having a negative impact on groundwater quality. Enough efforts are being made at about one-third of the extraction locations to comply with the nitrate standard in time. A third of the extraction locations will need additional efforts to be made, and the approach in the other locations will unfortunately not result in the objectives being met. In the last group, emergency measures are the only remaining possibility for drinking water utilities to comply with the standards for drinking water quality.

Although the active Dutch policy was initially successful in reducing nitrate leaching, that has no longer been the case since 2010. The level of excess nitrogen would actually seem to be rising again. In order to maintain the quality of drinking water sources, this should be taken into consideration in drinking water objectives in ongoing area programmes.

Emerging substances: problem for surface water quality

Forty percent of Dutch drinking water is extracted from or near surface water. The extracted water practically always contains emerging substances. The fact sheet on these substances shows that, in recent years, frequent intake shutdowns were needed for river water because the quality of surface water was not up to standard. Drinking water still meets the standards but it needs to be treated more and more effectively. This is also demonstrated by increasing levels of treatment.

Although emerging substances are included in the permit, monitoring and enforcement process, it often proves difficult to actually include all substances. Detection methods to detect these substances [BI6] are becoming increasingly sophisticated. This can help in the assessment of possible hazards for people and the environment. KWR is currently collaborating on projects that will make it possible to identify emerging substances earlier in the process.

A report will be published when the results of the fact sheets on pesticides and this pharmaceuticals are known.