Customizing the water quality standard

While the nitrogen crisis continues, another trap threatens; Nitrate guidance and the water framework, says Jos Verstraten. It calls for a different approach.

In addition to the Birding Directions and Habitat Directions, we’ve been familiar with the nitrate and water framework directives for years. Concepts such as “ensure proper preservation” and “critical sedimentation value” are now a piece of cake. The same conditions apply to the Water Framework Directive. There are also environmental objectives for each particular water body to which a particular water quality is associated to ensure proper conservation. The term taking measures to achieve those goals has been pushed multiple times to 2027, a legally difficult date.

What we call emission in the context of the nitrogen problem, the same goes for nitrate, but then we call leaching and runoff. Nitrogen in the form of ammonium and nitrate, along with other sources such as wastewater treatment plants, sewage flows, licensed discharges and, last but not least, import via rivers, ends up as precipitation in environmentally exposed water across land and above-ground flows .

Natura 2000 . areas

Sometimes water that is very nitrogen rich will flow directly into the Natura 2000 areas and then the dolls will dance. Hence the idea of ​​wide buffer strips in river valleys, as a way to protect the Natura 2000 areas from nitrogen leaching.

I support the approach in which we, as land-bound sectors, take on the challenge ourselves

Jos Verstraten, LTO Member of Dairy Farming

The European Commission has serious doubts about the Netherlands’ efforts in light of the slow progress in improving water quality which is also significant because the Netherlands is not sufficiently complying with the Natura 2000 Habitat Directive. There is an opinion why it would work well with the Water Framework Directive.


Hence the program of intensive work and the addition that, with €25 billion for the nitrogen approach, should convince the European Commission of the Dutch decisiveness. It states that goals are unavoidably fixed. Read: We put it on legally, so others can stick to it. This means that citizens, like mobilizing for the environment, can also turn to the court to inform the government of their shortcomings.

The current situation calls into question the continued existence of restriction of farms with grass. Why, as the European Commission, always grant an exemption to outdated nitrate directives, while targets are not being met? The fact that the non-compliance companies demonstrate the best water quality and that this restriction also contributes to circular agriculture and climate goals, and is thus part of the solution at the same time is being pushed to the margins in this sphere of political influence.

two flavors

What does this mean for us as an actor? In my opinion there are roughly two flavors. The first is that we do what we’ve always done. It has worked so well for the past 30 years. We have significantly reduced emissions and preserved future prospects for our farmers. We are reacting aggressively to the 7th Action Guideline for Nitrates and Supplement and are trying to minimize the impact in the lobby and get exceptions.

The effects of the program of work on water quality are subsequently disappointing. So we get what we’ve always gotten: fewer usage standards and more calendar setup. Rethinking manure policy puts the cart before the horse.

concrete wall

Nitrogen targets pushed us into a concrete wall. A similar wall looms in relation to water quality goals. We will run out of time and history will repeat itself.

This is why I advocate the approach that we, as land-constrained sectors, take up the challenge ourselves and organize targeted management to achieve the goals related to agriculture. This begins with a corporate level measurement, as in Belgium, so that we move from collective responsibility to individual responsibility and develop and accept measures when necessary and effective.

The chain of parties and the government must support this. Regional allocation should become the norm, not a substitute for the guidance of the Seventh, Eighth or Ninth Program of Work. This is a predictable dead end. A great challenge for the owner of the soil and water purse next to give substance to it.

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