Farm systems management and governance for producing good water quality for drinking water supplies

Safe drinking water is vital for human health. Policies to protect drinking water resources have not achieved consistent effectiveness in all member states. Diffuse pollution of nitrogen and pesticides from agriculture is the main obstacle to meeting drinking water quality targets.

FAIRWAY responded to call RUR-04-2016. It was an RIA -  Research and Innovation action, coordinated by Wageningen Environmental Research. FAIRWAY started in June 2017 and continued until the end of November 2021.


The overall objective of the FAIRWAY project was to review current approaches and measures for the protection of drinking water resources against pollution caused by pesticides and nitrate from agriculture. FAIRWAY identified and developed innovative measures and governance approaches for more effective drinking water protection in collaboration with relevant local, regional and national actors. 


The FAIRWAY partners formed a unique blend of researchers, farm advisers and consultancies. They built on 13 case studies (‘living labs’) in 11 different EU European Union (European Union) countries. A multi-actor platform was formed around the case studies underpinning all FAIRWAY’s work packages. Equally important was the upscaling of successful practices from case studies to the regional, national, and EU scales. 

Increased scientific understanding 

The outputs of FAIRWAY contributed to improved multi-actor engagement across different scales, which will allow agriculture and water policies to be addressed in a more integrated way.

FAIRWAY has increased the scientific understanding of the relationship between agriculture and drinking water protection and social, technical and economic barriers to practical implementation of measures. It has delivered innovative measures and tools to overcome these barriers. Furthermore, FAIRWAY has developed protocols and data sets to monitor farming practices, water quality, and effective governance approaches for small to large water supplies. This resulted in increased awareness and involvement of farmers and other citizens in the monitoring and governance of water supplies. All results of the FAIRWAY project are available through the project website.

RIVM role

Sandra Boekhold led the work on legal policy and governance in which colleagues Susanne Wuijts and Jacqueline Claessens also participated. RIVM's major achievements include a scientific paper ‘Protection of drinking water resources from agricultural pressures: Effectiveness of EU regulations in the context of local realities’ and a policy brief ‘From farm to drinking water - fit for the future?’ on improving governance conditions to better protect drinking water resources against agricultural pollution from nitrate and pesticides.

Key messages

RIVM contributed to 3 of the 16 key findings that came forward from FAIRWAY’s research results:

1. Capacity at local level is needed for good drinking water quality

2. Improved coherence in EU policy will strengthen protection of drinking water resources

3. Structural policy choices can reduce inputs and pressures at source


FAIRWAY received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 727984.