Main authors: Cors van den Brink, Koos Verloop
Editor: Jane Brandt
Source document: “Quick scan” for basic information on case studies, governance structures & multi- actor platforms. FAIRWAY Internal Report, 2017

1. General context

In the Netherlands, groundwater is a major resource of drinking water. In the province of Overijssel it is the only source of drinking water. As such it must be carefully monitored and managed. The province is responsible for the protection of groundwater used for drinking water purposes.

Evaluation of the EU Water Framework Directive (EU-WFD) showed that protection of this valuable resource needs improvement. The Drinking Water Protection File identifies necessary measures needed at each water abstraction site. The Protection File is part of the Dutch national EU-WFD implementation strategy, intended to improve the protection level of groundwater resources. It consists of a national, top-down framework and a regional, bottom-up process, which enforces commitment and enhances stakeholder awareness about risks and actions needed regarding the identification and implementation of measures to enhance the protection level of groundwater resources. The case study consists of the recharge area of 5 vulnerable drinking water abstractions points in the province of Overijssel, the Netherlands.

2. The particular case of Overijssel and its role in FAIRWAY

The hydrogeology in the Province of Overijssel is dominated by unconsolidated Quaternary sediments (see e.g. Dufour, 2000). Infiltration of rainfall is by far the major contributor to recharge in these sandy areas, with typical recharge figures of around 300 mm/year. The groundwater abstraction points are located in regions with sandy unconfined aquifers of Pleistocene origin. Often, clay layers occur within the Pleistocene sand layers, dividing the system in two or more aquifers (Cramer et al., 2010). As a consequence, the regional geohydrological situation is heterogeneous, resulting in a wide range of travel times for groundwater flowing towards the abstraction wells.

CS08 Overijssel

Soils are mainly sandy soils with groundwater tables typical at 2 – 4 m-sl. Land use consists of agricultural land use (mainly dairy farming with 80% grass and 20% maize), natural and some urban areas. The measures to be implemented are focused on reducing nitrate and pesticide leaching in five recharge areas of vulnerable abstraction sites in Overijssel.

Typical nitrate concentrations in the upper phreatic groundwater at the start of the pilot were averages of 92 – 161 mg NO3/l in maize and 64 – 86 mg NO3/l in grassland. All groundwater abstractions show an increase in hardness of the water due to manure application in the past. In individual abstraction wells, the nitrate standard is exceeded in Herikerberg/Goor, Wierden and Archemerberg, while in Hoge Hexel the standard is exceeded due to pyrite oxidation. In addition Bromacil is exceeding the standard in Wierden and Bentazone is exceeding 75% of the standard in Herikerberg/Goor. In the mixed water, standards are not exceeded. In addition, in one vulnerable abstraction – Espelose Broek - the focus is not on nitrate but on pesticides.

Since 2011, the province of Overijssel and the Vitens drinking water company, together with Wageningen University, Countus, Stimuland and Royal HaskoningDHV have given support to dairy farmers to improve their mineral management in the recharge areas of five vulnerable drinking water abstractions through the project »Boeren voor Drinkwater (Farmers for Drinking Water).

Objectives are:

  1. 50 mg NO3/l in the upper phreatic groundwater below agricultural area;
  2. 0.1 µg/l pesticides in the upper phreatic groundwater below agricultural area.

Targets for agricultural management are:

  1. N-soil surplus of at most 100 kg N/ha calculated by the Annual Nutrient Cycle Assessment (ANCA);
  2. a maximum 100 Environmental Impact Points (EIP) of individual pesticides and max 500 EIP for the total of all pesticides used.

3. Mitigation measures used

Mitigation measures that are used are:

  1. increase manure storage capacity;
  2. optimizing grazing – reduction of the grazing period in autumn;
  3. no manure application on maize when maize is grown in a rotation after grass;
  4. application of less manure on the part of the parcel where the machines have to make a turn;
  5. Sowing grass in maize after it has grown to knee-high to increase the effectivity of grass as winter cover crop;
  6. parcel-specific application of manure, taking into account that not every parcel has the average productivity of the farm;
  7. ‘wiedeggen’ - mechanical weed control in grass;
  8. mechanical weed control in maize;
  9. crop rotation;
  10. more efficient feeding of cows – and evaluation of the number of young cattle per cow to be held on the farm.

The N-measures were identified by analyzing the ANCA, which provides a farm-specific insight in the nutrient cycles and losses. The pesticides measures are mainly to increase awareness, because the EIP-approach has not yet been implemented. Measures are identified by the agricultural advisor and related to the targets to be met. They are selected together with the farmer and his opinion about the feasibility of a certain measure within his agricultural management. 

First results show that this mutual gain approach has resulted in both a decrease in nitrate concentration in the shallow phreatic groundwater and an increase of the economic results of the farm. The nitrate concentration decreased from appr. 90 to 75 mg NO3/l and the economic result of the implemented measures was approximately € 97 per hectare, which can be up to 2 - 6% of the regular economic yield of that hectare. The approach therefore was supported by the farmers, their representatives and the boards of the province and water company.

As far as remaining challenges are concerned, the Water Framework Directive (WFD) objectives have not yet been met for the resources in the case study. Neither in the farms joining the project, nor in the remaining 70% (approximately) of the agricultural area in the recharge areas. In order to meet the WFD objectives, the scope of the project has been widened. Major farms with a total area up to 50% of the agricultural area in the recharge areas were identified and invited to take part in the project. The current participating farmers were helped to become more autonomous in identifying and implementing measures. At the same time, the role of these farmers changed from participant to ambassador and agricultural consultant for potential new participants. Finally, the need to change the current agricultural practice was communicated to agricultural contractors and fertilizer and feed advisors. In addition, the approach has become a special groundwater part of a province-wide approach to improve agricultural practice.

Since December 2017, the project is a pilot study for national implementation in 40 vulnerable drinking water abstraction mentioned in the 6th Nitrate Action Programme. Together with the farmers, we have the ambition to show the relevance of a farm-specific N-management and relate the allowable use of N (derogation) to farm-specific criteria like the N-soil surplus.

4. Current water governance system

Actors and stakeholders involved in water governance and their roles

The present governing system is centralized with the central government and ministry for Food and Environment, and related agencies making all decisions regarding use of agri-environmental measures, including norms for fertilizer use, at farm and field level. To monitor and control implementation, the government requires farmers to report detailed fertilizer and field plans for cropping systems and fertilizer use. Government monitoring focuses on relatively large groundwater bodies on one hand and the quality of abstracted water at drinking water production sites on the other.

The provinces are responsible for protecting groundwater used for drinking water purposes. The provinces organize this process together with the drinking water companies as stakeholder with the main interest.

The Dutch political choice is that the WFD implementation should not lead to additional costs for the agricultural sector (Parliamentary Papers 2002, 27 625 Water Policy, Amendment Van der Vlies No. 92) and implies that in some vulnerable areas the existing general rules on the use of manure and pesticides are insufficient to meet the WFD objectives (Freriks, 2016). Therefore, the pilot is based on voluntary participation and mutual gain. 

Water quality control processes

The farmer is responsible for his own land management. He takes his decisions partly based on information of agricultural advisors provided by the project. However, also other agricultural advisors with other interests and knowledge provide information to the farmers. The farmer and agricultural advisor discuss possible measures and agree on the implementation of one of more of them. These measures are written down in a farm-specific management plan, which is agreed on by the farmer.

The targets are set by the agricultural advisors. They explained the link between the need for these targets at the level of the farm management and the objectives to be met in the phreatic groundwater. The targets are not compulsory nor prescribed by the province, water company or government but are provided by the agricultural advisors in the project.

The province monitors the nitrate concentrations in the phreatic groundwater (at approximately 200 points in 392 ha of participating parcels and at 20 points in the remaining part of the recharge areas). The agricultural advisors monitor the N-soil surplus based on the ANCA; Pesticides are not yet monitored. They will be monitored the coming years only regarding farm management by monitoring the EIP.

Enforcement has no role in the case study. Every stakeholder in the pilot assumes that ‘the farmers follow the official rules and regulation’. However, a statistical analysis of the Dutch manure accounting system showed that 30% of the produced manure is not accounted for. The authors cannot think of any other explanation than fraud.

In the early stage of the project the FAIRWAY partner overseeing the case study had a role defined as an arbiter. As the agricultural advisors are seen as ‘authorities’ by the farmers and because measures are taken voluntary, the arbiter role is not active anymore.

Engagement and multi-actor platforms

There is already in existence a platform for engagement in the case study, that will be considered as a MAP in FAIRWAY.

The province, water company and farmers are in the center of the MAP, supported by the consultants & researchers running the project. In addition, we inform and engage other stakeholders who are involved but do not have a direct interest such as land owner / user, agricultural contractors, other agricultural advisors (for manure, fertilizer, …) and banks.

Platforms include:

  • study group meetings, at which farmers work together with agricultural advisors and the province and water company are only present ‘to show their interest’;
  • evaluation meetings in which all stakeholders have their ‘official’ role, representing their ‘official’ responsibility (province) or interest (water company);
  • regional platform: from 2017 onwards, the pilot will be part of a regional initiative in the province of Overijssel, consisting of 500 farmers, and financed by the province, 3 water boards, 1 water company, bank, 2 agricultural firms and the EU 

The role of the province and water company is not easy. They are seen by the farmers as responsible stakeholders. If they join general meetings frequently, the farmers conclude that ‘a lot of money is spend on overheads’. If they don’t join general meetings frequently, the farmers conclude that ‘they have to implement a lot of difficult measures, but province and water company don’t even take the effort to share their enthusiasm’.

The challenge in the coming period is to extend the current MAP in such a way that it contributes to a continuation of the measures. We will explore ‘social enforcement’ of the measures by merging the pilot into a bigger regional initiative and the national 6th Nitrate Action Programme. We will explore ‘financial instruments’ by initiating a discussion with banks (part of the regional initiative) willing to stimulate ‘sustainable agriculture’.

More details ...




Go To Top