In the Netherlands, we derive our drinking water from two sources: groundwater and river water. In many areas, the quality of this water is not adequate. The measures taken to improve the quality have yet to yield significant direct effects. This is evident from an evaluation by RIVM. According to RIVM, these measures should focus more on tackling polluting activities. The division of responsibilities between the national government and the provinces could also be clearer.

Drinking water quality under pressure

In the Netherlands, our drinking water comes primarily from two sources: groundwater and river water. When the quality of these sources is good, little purification is needed to produce clean drinking water. However, in many areas, the water quality is insufficient, often due to excessive nutrients or pesticide residues.

Provinces and Rijkswaterstaat (the Dutch Directorate-General for Public Works and Water Management) are working with drinking water companies, water boards, and farmers on measures to improve water quality around drinking water extraction points.

Measures have too little direct effect

Research by RIVM shows that the current measures are unlikely to solve the problems. There are several reasons for this:

Many measures better map out the problems or improve collaboration. For example, by agreeing on who is responsible for pipeline maintenance. While important, these actions do not immediately improve groundwater and surface water quality.

Additionally, few measures directly reduce the runoff of pollutants into groundwater and surface water. Examples include revising permits for companies to discharge pollutants or reducing the use of fertilizers and pesticides in agriculture near drinking water sources.

Participation in these measures is often voluntary. Conflicting interests frequently lead to weakened measures. Moreover, it is often unclear who is responsible for solving certain problems—the national government or the provinces and water boards. Some measures are too costly for provinces to implement. Furthermore, monitoring is insufficiently set up to track the effects of the measures effectively.

Recommendations for more effective water management

RIVM recommends implementing more measures that tackle polluting activities directly. For groundwater, this could involve using agricultural land differently. It is important to clarify the structural division of responsibilities between the national government and the provinces for such measures. RIVM also advises better tracking of the effects of these measures.