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Brussels, 30 September 2010

Environment: Commission asks Spain to comply with EU water legislation against nitrate pollution

The European Commission is asking Spain to correctly apply EU legislation aimed at protecting water against nitrate pollution. Spain has two months to comply with the reasoned opinion, failing which the Commission may refer the case to the European Court of Justice.

EU Environment Commissioner Janez Potočnik said: "Safeguarding water quality is a top priority for the European Union. Member States must ensure that they properly apply EU law aimed at protecting EU citizens and the environment."

Bad application of the Nitrates Directive

The Nitrates Directive aims to protect water quality across Europe by preventing nitrates from agricultural sources polluting ground and surface waters and by promoting the use of good farming practices.

Directive 91/676/EEC requires Member States to monitor their waters and identify those affected, or likely to be affected, by pollution. It requires Member States to designate as Nitrate Vulnerable Zones (NVZ) all known areas of land in their territories which drain into these waters and which contribute to pollution. They must also set up appropriate action programmes for these zones.

The case refers to the still insufficient designation of Nitrate Vulnerable Zones (NVZ) in the Balearic Islands and also addresses shortcomings identified in the action programmes in a number of regions. These shortcomings concern Castilla-La Mancha (regarding the procedure for limiting the land application of fertilisers), Castilla y León (capacity of storage vessels for livestock manure), La Rioja and País Vasco (periods when the land application of certain types of fertiliser is prohibited).

Excess levels of nitrates can damage freshwaters and the marine environment by promoting excessive growth of algae that chokes other life, a process known as eutrophication.

For current statistics on infringements in general see:


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