Nitrates in river water (i30)

In 2021, Belgian rivers contained 3.6 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 favourable (assessment of November 2023).

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Nitrates in river water - Belgium and international comparison

milligrams NO3-N per litre

//: Average Growth Rates

Europe: 19 countries, see Description

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

Definition: the average nitrate concentration in river water is calculated on the basis of 26 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 18 countries of the European Union: Belgium, Cyprus, Czechia, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain and Sweden.

Goal: the average nitrate concentration in river water 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 river water decreased in Belgium, while it remained relatively stable in Europe. However, the average concentration in Belgium is well above the European average. In 2020 Belgium ranked last with 3.6mg NO3-N/l and Cyprus ranked first with 0.2mg NO3-N/l.

UN indicator: the selected indicator is related to indicator 6.3.1 - Proportion of wastewater safely treated. The nitrate concentration in river water is an indicator illustrating the efficiency of wastewater treatment.


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