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Fighting water pollution from agricultural nitrates

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Fighting water pollution from agricultural nitrates

Clean water is vital to human health and to natural ecosystems, so ensuring water quality is one of the most important features of European Union (EU) environmental policy. The 1991 Nitrates Directive is one of the earliest pieces of EU anti-pollution legislation.

ACT

Council Directive 91/676/EEC of 12 December 1991 concerning the protection of waters against pollution caused by nitrates from agricultural sources

SUMMARY

Clean water is vital to human health and to natural ecosystems, so ensuring water quality is one of the most important features of European Union (EU) environmental policy. The 1991 Nitrates Directive is one of the earliest pieces of EU anti-pollution legislation.

WHAT DOES THE DIRECTIVE DO?

It aims to reduce water pollution from nitrates used for agricultural purposes and to prevent any further pollution. It is closely linked to other EU policies which address air and water quality, climate change and agriculture.

KEY POINTS

EU countries must:

designate as vulnerable zones all those draining into waters which are or could be affected by high nitrate levels and eutrophication. The designation is reviewed and possibly revised at least every 4 years to take account of any changes that occur;

establish mandatory action programmes for these areas, taking into account available scientific and technical data and overall environmental conditions;

monitor the effectiveness of the action programmes;

test the nitrate concentration in fresh ground and surface water at sampling stations, at least monthly and more frequently during flooding;

carry out a comprehensive monitoring programme and submit every 4 years, a comprehensive report on the implementation of the Directive. The report includes information on nitrate-vulnerable zones, results of water monitoring, and a summary of the relevant aspects of codes of good agricultural practices and action programmes;

draw up a code of good agricultural practice which farmers apply on a voluntary basis. It sets out various good practices, such as when fertiliser use is inappropriate;

provide training and information for farmers, where appropriate.

The European Commission provides a report every 4 years on the basis of the national information it has received.

SINCE WHEN DOES THE DIRECTIVE APPLY?

From 19 December 1991.

BACKGROUND

Nitrogen is a vital nutrient that helps plants and crops to grow. But high concentrations are harmful to people and nature and agricultural use of nitrates in organic and chemical fertilisers can be a major source of water pollution. Farming is responsible for over 50 % of total nitrogen discharges into surface waters.

More information:

REFERENCES

Act

Entry into force

Deadline for transposition in the Member States

Official Journal

Directive 91/676/EEC

19.12.1991

19.12.1993

OJ L 375, 31.12.1991, pp. 1-8.

Amending act(s)

Entry into force

Deadline for transposition in the Member States

Official Journal

Regulation (EC) No 1882/2003

20.11.2003

-

OJ L 284, 31.10.2003, pp. 1-53.

Regulation (EC) No 1137/2008

11.12.2008

-

OJ L 311, 21.11.2008, pp. 1-54.

The successive amendments and corrigenda to Directive 91/676/EEC have been incorporated into the original text. This consolidated version is for reference only.

RELATED ACTS

Report from the Commission to the Council and the European Parliament on implementation of Council Directive 91/676/EEC concerning the protection of waters against pollution caused by nitrates from agricultural sources based on Member State reports for the period 2008-2011 (COM(2013) 683 final of 4.10.2013)

last update 08.09.2015

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