An article in Wageningen World, the monthly journal published by Wageningen University & Research, has warned that the Netherlands has the poorest water quality in Europe, with just 1 percent of the country’s lakes and rivers meeting the cleanliness standards set out by the EU. 

Only 1 percent of Dutch waterways meet EU standards

The Netherlands might be known for its many waterways and impressive water management skills, but it seems as though the country still has a long way to go when it comes to maintaining the quality and cleanliness of its water. While the nation’s supply of drinking water is certainly up to scratch, data regarding the quality of Dutch lakes and rivers tells a very different story. 

According to one prominent Dutch university, the Netherlands “fails” when it comes to the quality of its water. Of the over 700 designated bodies of water across the country, Wageningen World explains that only 1 percent are categorised as “good” according to standards set out in the EU’s Water Framework Directive (WFD). 

“The Netherlands is already the drain of Western Europe: polluted water from abroad flows into the country via streams and rivers,” Peter Schipper, a researcher at Wageningen Environmental Research, told the journal. “With our agriculture, industry, transport and high population density, we naturally add contaminants.”

The Netherlands occupies last place in EU for water quality

Introduced in 2000, the WFD acts as the central legislation for water protection in the bloc, and aims to ensure that water in all member states is in “good chemical and good ecological status”. Bodies of water across the EU are therefore assessed according to various indicators, including biodiversity and the concentration of dozens of different pollutants (e.g. pesticides, nitrate, phosphate).

The strict standards mean that if part of a body of water fails in one category, the whole river or lake is given an “unsatisfactory” rating. This system, which Wageningen World calls a “one out, all out principle”, has resulted in a rather shocking statistic: only 1 percent of the Netherlands’ rivers and lakes are classified as “good” and therefore comply with the standards set out by the WFD.

Furthermore, according to the latest data from 2019, the Netherlands has the poorest water quality out of all 27 member states. In Finland, for example, 78 percent of all bodies of water have been labelled “good”. 

The Netherlands unlikely to reach WFD targets by 2027

The Netherlands apparently has quite a lot of work to do, especially if it hopes to reach the EU’s goals for 2027 – but Wageningen World reports that various specialist bodies, including Natuurmonumenten and the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency (PBL), don’t think the country will have anything to celebrate at the “graduation ceremony” in four years. 

While implementing the changes needed in order to turn the situation around is likely to be pricey, the Dutch government risks even higher costs should it fail to reach EU targets, potentially facing millions of euros in fines from Brussels. The issue is especially topical at the moment, with the Dutch provincial and water board elections right around the corner. One of the major points on the ballot is set to be the government’s controversial nitrogen policy.

Thumb: Clara Bastian via

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