Main authors: Frode Sundnes, Cors van den Brink, Morten Graversgaard
Case study leaders: Birgitte Hansen, Irene Wiborg, Morten Graversgaard
iSQAPERiS editor: Jane Brandt
Source document: »Sundnes, F et al. (2020) Advancing MAPs as vehicles for resolving issues on drinking water pollution from agriculture. FAIRWAY Project Deliverable 2.5R, 56 pp


In »Multi-actor platforms as vehicles for resolving drinking water pollution issues we critically assess the MAP engagement processes in the FAIRWAY case studies. We look at lessons learned and map opportunities and bottlenecks for meaningful engagement, shed light on challenges and how they have been addressed, and explore the future sustainability of the engagement platforms beyond the lifetime of the project. Here we present feedback from Island Tunø MAP participants on the performance and functioning of their MAP that was fed into that assessment to enable the harvesting of lessons and best practice.

Contents table
1. Description of MAP
2. Problem identification and shared understanding
3. Achievement
4. Engagement process and participation
5. Trust
6. Conflicts
7. Future sustainability of MAP
8. Lessons learned

1. Description of MAP

Groundwater protection on Tunø was the first of its kind in Danish drinking water protection history. High level of nitrate in the wells from horticulture production, initiated a governance response. The drinking water protection project started in 1986. The main instrument used was the implementation of protection zones (no agricultural production) across the drinking water capture zone of each abstraction well. The protection involved comprehensive and systematic monitoring to determine the effects on groundwater quality.

1.1 Background

During the 1980s, the nitrate content of the drinking water increased to very high levels (up to 150 mg/l in single wells). This meant that action was needed to ensure compliance with the drinking water standard of 50 mg NO3/l.

A working group was established in 1986 to draw up a strategy for safeguarding the drinking water supply and the resultant sustainable water supply project established protection zones surrounding Tunø Waterworks. In 1989, the initial protection zones were established (1989-1992) with 3 ha inner protection zone with permanent grass, and agricultural advisory efforts to improve nitrogen efficiency. The protection zone and agricultural advisory efforts were not enough, so in 1992, a new protection strategy was established (1992-2017) consisting of:

  • Increased (6,5 ha) inner protection zone with very low nitrate leaching from:
    – Permanent grass where the areas was bought by the waterworks
    – Exchange of fields between farmers to secure productive areas
  • Long-term commitment (1992 -2017) set-a-side with clover + grass (EU-support) in an area (7 ha) owned by a single farmer, who was willing to sell, due to retirement plans.
  • Best practise implemented for crop production:
    – Improving of nitrogen efficiency with fertilizer plans
    – Improving tools to place fertilizer
    – Soil quality improvement (solve soil compaction etc.).

As a result, the nitrate concentrations have decreased from more than 150 mg NO3/l to approximately 25 mg NO3/l in the most polluted abstraction well, which makes the Tunø case an example for effective drinking water protection in an agricultural setting. This was complemented with information campaigns directed to the farmers.

The Tunø case is used because there are many lessons learned, but also because it can be an example of how to sustain a long-term project and long-term farmer and stakeholder commitment under changing administrative structures, which are current dilemmas in many drinking water protection projects.

There is no MAP at present, but the analysis will focus on the platform that was set-up in at the end of the 1980s and how this has changed over time and what kind of consequences this has had for long-term drinking water protection.

1.2 Arenas and actors

The historical MAP consisted of the local water works, two local farmers, the municipality, the local agricultural adviser, and the former regional authority (the county).

  • The municipality (Odder Kommune) is the current authority responsible for the governance of Tunø Waterworks, in the 1980s the county was responsible of the drinking water protection. The waterworks was and still is maintained by a board, which has been developed over time and adjusted to the inevitable changes in administration and ownership of agricultural fields in the protection zones over time.
  • The waterworks continuously monitor trends in groundwater and drinking water quality and follow the trend. If they see a continuous increase in e.g. nitrate or pesticides, they start to take action in close collaboration with the municipality. By legislation, the permit limit is defined.
  • The farmer is responsible for management of his own fields. He takes his decisions partly based on information from different decision support tools and agricultural advisors. Farmers are restricted in their choice of farming practice, use of fertilizers, manure and pesticides, measures etc. due to current legislation.

In FAIRWAY, the development and structure over time of the former MAP has been analysed. It will be considered if a new MAP should be established.

In the Danish MAP of Tunø the following questions are asked:

  • How to achieve farmer commitment to solve drinking water problems?
  • How to sustain a long-term project under changing administrative structures (long-term project management > 20 years)?
  • How to get measures accepted by farmers (including time to accept)?
  • How is farming practice affecting nitrate in groundwater?
  • Is the current groundwater protection strategy the most cost-effective?

Five interviews have been conducted with key representatives of the MAP that was in action in the 1990s.  

2. Problem identification and shared understanding

From interviews with regional authorities and the farmers that were affected by the groundwater protection regulation and that were responsible for intensive agriculture on the Island of Tunø, there was not a shared understanding between them and the regional authorities of what the problem was or how to address the problem. The farmers, still claim today that there were no nitrate problems in the 1980s- and early 1990s and that it came as a shock, that something had to be done (there was huge media coverage of the nitrate pollution of drinking water on the Island of Tunø on national television and newspapers). As this quote from one of the farmers illustrates: “(…) it was not as bad as they said, some reporters added 200mg extra and then it didn't stop (…) It would have resolved itself over time (nitrate would decrease with time)”. On the other hand, the former head of the regional authority, was very sure about the issue and how it could be fixed. This was backed up by technical reports and research on the issue. Therefore, the regional authorities started to develop scenarios of what to be done to protect the drinking water. 

3. Achievement

The success with introducing drinking water protection at Tunø, and hereby reducing nitrate concentrations, was partly due to the governance structure and technical reports that enabled the achievement of farmer commitment to solve the drinking water problem. The media was very much part of the picture, where journalist presented the problem to the whole of Denmark leaving the farmers with nothing to do besides participating in the MAP.

From a scientific/technical perspective the Tunø case is a success and an example of how to implement groundwater protection through the use of permanent grasslands. The permanent grasslands showed that it was possible to reduce nitrate concentrations to a tolerable level for humans. However, from a farmer’s perspective and from a long-term monitoring perspective, the problem is that commitment is not something that comes easily and if long-term groundwater protection is implemented there needs to be a shared understanding of the issue. The farmers perceive the whole MAP and regulation not as a success, but as a top-down development they had no share in. The farmers believe that many of the farmers would have retired anyway and that it would then have been easy for the authorities to buy some of the land and pass this on to the affected farmers (land consolidation was used as a measure). 

4. Engagement process and participation

The process with engaging farmers in drinking water protection was mainly based on trying to convince farmers of the problem with nitrate pollution and the relation between nitrate leaching and horticulture practices. This process was mainly based on information supply and many meetings and with engagement or stakeholder participation

5. Trust

Even though there was not a shared understanding of the problem and little stakeholder engagement, there were high levels of trust between the farmers and the regional authority, built up over time and created by having many physical meetings in the fields. These meeting meant that the farmers felt the authorities took them seriously. At the same time, the farmers felt they were treated fairly by the authorities, not just getting compensation, but also new land and more land than they were obliged to get. The programme was required to provide each farmer with a minimum area, so that a farmer who lost 1ha to the abstraction protection zone gained 1ha from outside the area. 

6. Conflicts

Conflicts were avoided as farmers were given new land and compensation. 

7. Future sustainability of MAP

Now that the FAIRWAY project has revisited Tunø Island 30 years after the scheme began, we are well positioned to address some key questions. Especially the question of how to maintain groundwater protection for long periods of time in the face of challenges such as:

  • New ownerships (both farms and citizens and waterworks etc.)
  • New administrative units, borders and governance structures
  • Agreements are old and the 20-year leases have expired.

Because the actors at Tunø did not have a shared understanding of the issue of nitrate, this might be important to work with when the administrative authorities of the future must evaluate how groundwater protection should be done at Tunø. 

8. Lessons learned

The findings are relevant for other islands, regions and countries struggling with high levels of nitrate in their drinking water and where issues of how to sustain a long-term project and long-term farmer and stakeholder commitment under changing administrative structures are dilemmas in drinking water protection.

The Tunø case is a successful example of groundwater protection on a small island with one small waterworks where the aquifer is vulnerable to nitrate pollution and salt-water intrusion. The case will be used as a “lesson learned”:

  • Use of the measure; permanent (set-aside land for) grass is very efficient in groundwater protection
  • Groundwater protection is time-consuming, and it is important that the process is given the necessary time.
  • Durable (permanent) instruments are relevant
  • Collaboration with local farmers is necessary – however a shared understanding of the issue and problem is necessary for long-term commitment
  • Effect measurements are an important part of adjusting the effort.
  • Monitoring is essential for evaluating instruments
  • Expect changes in policy and ownership
  • A credible forecast is essential for planning and acceptance.


Note: For full references to papers quoted in this article see


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