Nitrate Directive

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The EU Nitrates Directive promotes the use of agricultural “good practices”, in order to reduce nitrate contamination of water, due to excess fertilization and irrigation, among other causes.

All member states of the European Union must comply with the Nitrates Directive, which is one of the main legal instruments available in the Water Framework Directive to guarantee the good state of waters in Europe.

The EU Nitrates Directive obliges member states to develop “Action Programs”, aimed at preventing, controlling, minimizing and improving Nitrate contamination of waters.

The area of ​​action of these programs already covers 47% of the total agricultural area of ​​the EU. Member states must control Nitrate levels in the waters, as well as review the designation of Non-Vulnerable Zones (NVZs) and the effectiveness of their “Action Programs”, reporting to the European Commission every four years.

However, the movement of nitrates through the soil is a complex process, which hides the origin of the contamination and makes it difficult to verify the compliance of agricultural “Good Practices” by farmers and the effectiveness of the Action”.

These “Good Practices” are also mandatory, according to the Conditionality of the “Common Agricultural Policy” of the EU (PAC), so that farmers receive aid from Europe. Precisely, a recent audit of the EU Court of Auditors has pointed out the little link between the CAP instruments and the objectives of the Water Framework Directive, particularly as regards Nitrate contamination.

However, modern tools for simulation and spatial data processing allow estimating the possible contamination by Nitrates of the waters of a region, taking into account the agricultural practices in each plot. This is precisely the objective of a LIFE project in which Zeta Amaltea participates.

The technique developed in this LIFE Project where ZETA AMALTEA participates will allow administrations to verify compliance with the Action Programs required by the Nitrates directive, as well as detect potential breaches of the CAP’s conditionality and work on the Court’s observations. of Accounts of the EU.

The procedure consists of using the data of the SIGPAC, with the information of crops and agronomic management in each plot, as input to the Dutch agrohydrological model SWAP and combining it with the ModFlow hydrological model. The procedure has been published in scientific journals and is used in the Dutch Hydrological Service, but it is the first time it has been used to evaluate the effectiveness of the action programs of the Nitrates Directive and the agricultural “Good Practices”.