Ministers present joint proposal for effectively protecting groundwater against nitrate input



Protecting the groundwater is a top priority for the German government. Therefore it is important to prevent too much nitrate entering the soil via fertilisers. Following comprehensive consultations with the Länder, associations and members of the Bundestag, the federal government has agreed on proposals to further limit fertilisation. The Länder were included as the Fertiliser Application Ordinance also has to be approved by the Bundesrat. The goal is to improve the protection of our waters and thus meet the requirements of the ECJ decision against the Federal Republic of Germany concerning the EU nitrates directive (91/676/EEC).

"Fertilisers are for the plants and not for the groundwater. We want to protect our groundwater. I am glad that we have managed to propose to the EU Commission a fair balance between the rigorous limit values of the nitrates directive and the requirements for sustainable crop production. Implementing these provisions would require considerable efforts by our farmers. However, we plan to support them with various measures, as the farmers are also deeply interested in keeping our groundwater clean,” commented Federal Agriculture Minister Julia Klöckner.

Federal Environment Minister Svenja Schulze said: "We are proposing to the EU Commission a package of legal provisions which take water body protection into greater account. This additional tightening of the rules concerning fertilisation is necessary as we want to cut nitrate values in water bodies to an acceptable level, put an end to the infringement procedure against Germany and avoid penalties. Lower nitrate values will help us to prevent increasing prices for drinking water and will protect our biological diversity. This is for the benefit of all."

While nitrate is an important plant nutrient, excessive nitrate levels in groundwater make drinking water treatment more expensive and are detrimental to the environment. In addition, conventional countermeasures of the water management sector are increasingly reaching their limits, are expensive and put a financial burden on both private households and businesses.

Therefore, agriculture has already undertaken comprehensive efforts to improve the situation in recent years. As early as 2017, the federal Government amended the Fertiliser Application Ordinance with the aim of improving the protection of groundwater bodies. However, from the point of view of the European Commission those amendments did not go far enough to meet the requirements of the EU nitrates directive. In the meantime, the European Court of Justice condemned Germany for an inadequate transposition of the nitrates directive in 2018.

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