Nitrates in groundwater (i31)

In 2021, Belgian groundwater contained 25.6 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. Between 2000 and 2021, the trend is undetermined (assessment of November 2023).

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Nitrates in groundwater - Belgium and international comparison

milligrams NO3-N per litre

//: Average Growth Rates

EEA (2023), Nutrients in freshwater in Europe (CSI 020/WAT 003), direct communication 24/8/2023.

Definition: the average nitrate concentration in groundwater is calculated on the basis of 20 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 are given for 18 countries of the European Union: Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Malta, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia and Spain.

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. When Member States are divided into three groups, Belgium is part of the group with the worst performance in 2021. In that year, Spain ranked last with 62.8mg NO3-N/l and Finland ranked first with 0.2mg NO3-N/l.

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.


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