Integrated water management – revised lists of surface and groundwater pollutants

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Practical information

  1. Composition of the study group
  2. Administrators / Assistant in charge: Gaia BOTTONI/ Isabel ANTUNES
  3. Contact

Background

Europe's almost 100,000 surface water bodies (streams, rivers, lakes, wetlands, and reservoirs) and 12,000 groundwater bodies are vital as a source of drinking water, for healthy ecosystems and biodiverse nature, for farmers and industry, as a means of transportation and are indispensable for electricity and heat production. Since the early and mid-2000s, the Water Framework Directive, jointly with the Environmental Quality Standards Directive for surface waters, and Groundwater Directive, have provided the framework for their sustainable management.

Water can become unsafe and unfit for human use or irrigation when certain pollutants (also called 'substances of concern'), such as pesticides, fertilisers, chemicals and salts enter the groundwater, as well as surface water bodies at levels above certain thresholds. The massive death of fish in the Oder river this summer underlined the importance of protecting our rivers and making them more resilient, as the combination of extreme climatic circumstances and pollution can quickly create biodiversity tipping points.

Rules need to be adapted regularly to allow authorities to respond to current and future pollution threats, both nationally and across borders. New scientific evidence is helping us better understand the health and environmental impacts of chemical substances or their mixtures.

The current legislation lists several polluting substances and groups of substances, as well as quality standards, or threshold values for each, that EU countries need to respect. So far, 53 substances have been included at EU level, mainly pesticides, industrial chemicals and metals for surface water, next to nitrates and active substances in pesticides for groundwater. However, this list of pollutants is incomplete as it omits some emerging substances with significant negative effects on the environment and human health. At the same time, some of the still listed substances are no longer present in significant quantities in the environment, and for others, the standards do not correspond to the latest evidence.

Finally, the Fitness Check of water legislation conducted in 2019 highlighted some other shortcomings in the way water pollution is monitored and reported on and the current proposal for revision addresses several of these shortcomings.