The European Commission will take Spain to the Court of Justice of the European Union for not taking adequate measures to protect its waters from contamination by nitrates from agricultural sources.
A file has been open in Brussels regarding Spain’s polluted waters since 2018. “Despite some limited progress, Spain must still adopt additional measures to avoid eutrophication throughout the country, since those established to date have not managed to achieve the objectives of the Directive”, according to the Community Executive.
In its examination, Brussels considers “insufficient” the measures taken to date in Aragon, Castilla-La Mancha, Castilla y León and Murcia. It calls for “additional measures” so they can all achieve the objectives set by the directive on nitrates.
In addition, the Commission calls on the Spanish authorities to review the situation in seven regions – Castilla y León, Extremadura, Galicia, the Balearic Islands, the Canary Islands, Madrid and the Valencian Community – and continue to designate them as nitrate-vulnerable zones.
Spain is one of EU countries with the worst water quality
The Commission also asks to include all the mandatory elements necessary in the action programs for Aragon, Castilla-La Mancha, Castilla y León, Extremadura and Madrid. The file dates back to November 2018, when the community services formally opened the infringement procedure. They sent a letter of formal notice requesting more information.
The lack of solutions led the Commission to move on to the second phase of the sanctioning file in June 2020. Then they demanded more explanations and changes in the situation; however, it did not serve to resolve the dispute either. Brussels maintains the nitrates directive is one of the “cornerstones” of European Union legislation that affects water. It was designed to reduce nitrate pollution from agriculture and act preventively against new pollution risks.
14% of groundwater in the EU contaminated with nitrates
The discharge of fertilisers from agriculture and by-products such as slurry from the livestock industry is one of the main sources of contamination of aquifers
Member States have the obligation to control their waters and identify which are or could be contaminated in the future. The authorities also have the obligation to classify surfaces whose runoff flows into these waters as areas vulnerable to nitrates. Furthermore, they must establish appropriate action programs to prevent and reduce pollution from this cause.
According to a report published by the Commission last October, Spain has one of the worst EU water qualities. It has a “systemic problem” in managing pollution caused by nutrients from agricultural activity.
The document indicates “some Member States must adopt urgent additional measures” to achieve the objectives set out in the nitrates directive. It points in particular to Spain, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Germany.