Groundwater in germany is too heavily polluted with nitrates in many places, according to a report by the eu commission. According to this, an average of 28 percent of the measuring stations exceeded the limit value of 50 milligrams per liter of water in the period from 2012 to 2015.
Only on malta was this value higher during the period: there, the nitrate limit value was not complied with at 71 percent of the measurement stations. However, the comparability of the individual countries is limited due to different monitoring procedures, according to the report, which was first reported by the newspapers of the funke mediengruppe (wednesday).
"There is no danger to drinking water," says maximilian hofmeier, an expert on land-use planning at the federal environment agency (UBA). In regions where nitrate levels were too high, water suppliers mixed drinking water with uncontaminated raw water, for example, in order to comply with the limit values. However, this is associated with higher costs.
Throughout europe, the EU experts registered a slight easing of the regulations. According to the report, the number of "polluted" measuring points in the EU has fallen from 14.4 to 13.2 percent compared to the previous report.
Nitrate enters the groundwater mainly via organic fertilizers from agriculture, such as slurry. In waters, high nitrate levels favor excessive growth of algae and other plants. The decomposition of dead plants devours a lot of oxygen, which can cause fish to die and the entire ecosystem to "topple over".
In order to reduce nitrate pollution of water, the EU nitrate directive prescribes measures that must be implemented in the member states. Germany regulates implementation in the dung ordinance, which was revised in 2017. Among other things, there are certain lock-up periods in which farmers are not allowed to apply organic manure to the fields. This applies, for example, during periods when plants are not growing and therefore do not absorb nitrate. The ordinance also contains an upper limit for organic dung substances.
"With the amendment of the dung ordinance, we have some good approaches to reduce nitrate pollution of groundwater," says hofmeier of the UBA. However, the implementation processes took too long overall, so that a significant reduction in the burden is not to be expected in the short term. Because, in the opinion of the EU commission, the directive is being implemented inadequately in germany, infringement proceedings are underway against germany. In june, the european court of justice (eugh) will rule on the matter.
"The excessive inputs of nitrates into our water must finally be consistently reduced in order to protect our drinking water resources," also says karsten specht, vice president of the association of municipal companies (VKU), which among other things represents the interests of municipal water suppliers. "The dung package is a step in the right direction, but it is not enough."Less nitrate needs to reach the fields, especially against the background of the EU nitrate lawsuit against germany. If the nitrate contamination of water could not be reduced, consumers would have to reckon with additional costs for drinking water treatment, among other things.
Like the EU commission, the german farmers’ association described europe-wide comparisons of nitrate levels in groundwater as only "of limited value". For example, the density of measuring points in germany is only about a quarter of the EU average, said deputy secretary general udo hemmerling. He demanded to use a measuring network of the european environment agency. According to the regulation, the nitrate threshold value in germany is exceeded at only 18 percent of the measuring points, not 28 percent. The current nitrate report for germany from 2016 also confirms that stable or falling nitrate levels can be found at 72 percent of the measuring points in germany.
The level of nitrates in drinking water is strictly controlled, mainly because high concentrations can be dangerous for infants. The nitrate can be converted to nitrite in them, which can then ultimately impair oxygen uptake.