Nitrates in groundwater

In 2012, Belgian groundwater contained 29.9 milligrams of nitrogen in the form of nitrates per litre of water. To achieve the sustainable development goal by 2030, this figure must be reduced. This objective will not be reached by continuing the trend since 2000. Nitrates in groundwater are therefore developing unfavourably.

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Nitrates in groundwater - Belgium and international comparison

mg NO3-N/l

//: Average Growth Rates

EEA (2015), Nutrients in freshwater (CSI 020/WAT 003) - Assessment published Feb 2015, (consulted on 01/04/2019).

Definition: the average nitrate concentration in groundwater is calculated on the basis of 38 monitoring points located throughout Belgium. It is expressed as the nitrogen weight in those nitrates per liter of water (mg NO3-N/l). The data come from the European Environment Agency. The European data relate to 29 countries: Austria, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Republic of Macedonia, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom.

Goal: the average nitrate concentration in groundwater must be reduced.

The Sustainable Development Goals or SDGs adopted by the UN in 2015 include target 6.3: “By 2030, improve water quality by reducing pollution, eliminating dumping and minimizing release of hazardous chemicals and materials, halving the proportion of untreated wastewater and substantially increasing recycling and safe reuse globally”.

The Federal Long-Term Strategic Vision for Sustainable Development contains objective 35: “Emissions of pollutants will be significantly reduced and air (indoor and outdoor), water and soil pollution will no longer have a significant - direct or indirect - impact, neither on health nor on the environment” (Belgian Official Gazette, 08/10/2013).

International comparison: the average nitrate concentration in groundwater in Belgium is well above the European average, which remains relatively stable. Only 4 countries have a higher average concentration (in descending order: Malta, Cyprus, Spain and Luxembourg).

UN indicator: the selected indicator does not correspond to any SDG indicator, but is related to target 6.3. The nitrate concentration in groundwater is an indicator illustrating the pollution of groundwater.


  • SDGs, Sustainable Development Goals: United Nations (2015), Transforming our world: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Resolution adopted by the General Assembly on 25 September 2015, document A/RES/70/1.

  • Indicators: United Nations (2017), Work of the Statistical Commission pertaining to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Resolution adopted by the General Assembly on 6 July 2017, document A/RES/71/313.

  • UN Sustainable Development Knowledge Platform: (consulted on 26/04/2019).

  • Sustainable Development Goal indicators website: (consulted on 26/04/2019).

More information is available in FR (French) and NL (Dutch).