Climate change, soil pollution and the shortage of natural resources create challenges in meeting high standards for soil and water systems management. Dutch subsoil is even more intensely used. To keep ahead of these challenges RIVMNational Institute for Public Health and the Environment supports authorities in making regulations for integral and future use.

In a highly populated country such as the Netherlands it is becoming increasingly difficult to combine certain functions in the ground. In certain places, there is not enough room for cables, pipes, water storage facilities, protected archaeological sites and other forms of soil use. This together with the ground quality, fertility and water retention facilities also increases the pressure.

It is, therefore, becoming increasingly more difficult to make the use of land acceptable to the human requirements of water, food, health, energy and recreation. We cannot take water safety, water quality and the availability of drinking water for granted.

Soil and groundwater

Soil and groundwater systems are closely connected. Soil is the nursery of (drinking) water of the future.

These are slow systems and wrong decisions can lead to high costs and years of restrictions of use. Therefore, in order for the Netherlands to be healthy, safe and competitive, the wise use of soil and groundwater is necessary.

RIVMNational Institute for Public Health and the Environment always links soil and water when developing expertise and policy. With our integrated approach we support authorities by stimulating lasting use of soil and the amenities which the soil and water systems deliver to us. In this area, we are connected to the Framework Directive Water.

Policy fields

RIVM expertise in the scope of soil and water is within the following policy fields benefitting authorities:

To ensure the quality of our soil and water system the authorities have established standards for substances. Since the 1980’s RIVM has worked to develop Dutch policy and the substantiation of standards. From this background, we advise on policy modifications, such as linking new standards to new substances.

We advise authorities concerning safeguarding drinking water reservoirs, sources and quality. We do this with experts in the field of microbiology (pathogens), radiation, toxicology, epidemiology, hydrology, chemistry and CBRNChemical Biological Radiology and nuclear (chemical, biological, radiology and nuclear) substances.


RIVM monitors the chemical quality of groundwater and on-farm surface water with the use of monitoring networks on a national scale. Our objective is evaluating the effectiveness of Dutch policy measures. We establish whether policy has led to changes and improvement in water quality.  

The Minerals Policy Monitoring Programme monitors at approximately 450 commercial farms the on-farm surface water (ditches) and water leaching from the root zone. The National Groundwater Quality Monitoring Network monitors in approximately 350 dedicated monitoring wells groundwater quality with screens at 10, 15, 25 m below soil level. These wells are located in agricultural, natural and urban areas. The data are available on the LMM website.

Until 2014  RIVM also monitored the water quality below nature areas (National Acidification Trend Monitoring Network) and biological and chemical soil quality (National Soil Quality Monitoring Network).

Derogation & Water quality

The Dutch livestock produces not only milk and meat, but manure too.
Manure is a fertiliser, it contains nutrients (minerals) for crops to grow.
Part of these nutrients is not absorbed and leaches into the ground water and surface water, polluting the environment.
This is why the European Union sets standards by which member states can regulate how much manure farmers are allowed to use on their land.
In addition to the EU application standard for nitrogen from animal manure, the Netherlands has its own standards for the total amount of nitrogen fertiliser, which exceed the standard for manure.
The farmer can supplement the difference between the two with chemical fertilisers.
Under certain conditions the EU allows Dutch farmers, as well as farmers in several other countries, to use more manure than the EU standard.
This is called derogation from the Nitrates Directive.
In order to qualify for derogation, farmers must cultivate at least 80% of their area as grassland.
Grass absorbs the nutrients better than crops like corn.
This means there is less leaching of nutrients into groundwater and surface water.
Derogation provides farmers with financial benefits in two ways.
Firstly, they have to spend less on the removal of manure away from their farm, secondly they don’t have to buy as much chemical fertilisers.
With the Minerals Policy Monitoring Programme, RIVM has been measuring water quality on 300 derogation farms since 2006.
Wageningen Economic Research collects information about agricultural practices and fertiliser use.
These monitoring programmes demonstrate that the use of more manure by derogation farms does not have a negative impact on water quality.
This is due to the fact that the total amount of admissible fertilisers has not increased.
In addition, the use of land as grassland is promoted, which helps decrease nutrients leaching.