Documents considered by the Committee on 11 July 2018 Contents

9Agriculture and Sustainable Water Management

Committee’s assessment

Politically important

Committee’s decision

Document (a) Cleared from scrutiny (decision reported on 29/11/2017); Document (b) Cleared from scrutiny; Drawn to the attention of the Environmental Audit Committee

Document details

(a) Commission Staff Working Document: Agriculture and Sustainable Water Management in the EU; (b) Report from the Commission on the implementation of Council Directive 91/676/EEC concerning the protection of waters against pollution caused by nitrates from agricultural sources based on Member State reports for the period 2012–15

Legal base

Department

Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Document Numbers

(a) (38704), 8705/17, SWD(17) 153; (b) (39692), 8693/18 + ADDs 1–9, COM (18) 257

Summary and Committee’s conclusions

9.1The quantity and quality of water are affected by agriculture through both abstraction and pollution from nutrients and pesticides. A particular issue derived from agriculture is that of nitrate pollution in water.

9.2The Commission set out the challenges of tackling the impacts of agriculture in water in a paper (document(a)) published in Spring 2017. Since then, it has also published a report assessing the implementation of the “Nitrates Directive”68 based on Member State reports for the period 2012–15. It found that the nitrates concentrations for surface water and groundwater have improved in general across Member States.

9.3The UK’s performance reflects a slow and steady decrease in nitrate levels in surface water and groundwater. That said, the UK has one of the highest annual average nitrate concentrations in the EU. Furthermore, performance varies substantially across the UK. For example, the percentage of groundwater monitoring stations with average values equal to or exceeding 25 milligrams of nitrates per litre over the period 2012–15 was: 41% in England; 39.5% in Scotland; 16.2% in Wales; and 1.8% in Northern Ireland. These figures represent marginal changes compared to the period 2008–11.69

9.4The Minister for Farming and Fisheries (George Eustice) summarises the nitrates pollution situation across the UK in his EM, explaining that the Government’s 25 Year Environment Plan sets out key actions for continuing to tackle pollution from agriculture, including:

9.5In his response70 to the queries that we raised on the Commission’s earlier Report, the Minister observes that the Government has since published its “Health and Harmony“ consultation on future agricultural policy.71 As part of that policy, the Government proposes that payments be awarded for the provision of public goods, including water quality. This, he says, includes: protecting the supply of clean drinking water; improving public health; providing increased recreation opportunities; underpinning sustainable food production; and preventing loss of, or damage to, habitats and species that rely on the water environment.

9.6The issues raised in both of these documents are of critical importance. We note that water quality was included as one of the public goods for which farmers may be able to claim payment under the emerging new agricultural policy on which the Government is consulting.

9.7We note that nitrate concentrations in the UK remain high, demonstrating how important further action is. The Environmental Audit Committee is undertaking an inquiry into nitrates policy and will no doubt be interested in the details of the Report on the Nitrates Directive. We draw it to the attention of that Committee and now clear both the Report and the Staff Working Document from scrutiny.

Full details of the documents

(a) Commission Staff Working Document: Agriculture and Sustainable Water Management in the EU: (38704), 8705/17, SWD(17) 153; (b) Report from the Commission on the implementation of Council Directive 91/676/EEC concerning the protection of waters against pollution caused by nitrates from agricultural sources based on Member State reports for the period 2012–2015: (39692), 8693/18 + ADDs 1–9, COM (18) 257.

Previous Committee Reports

Third Report HC 301–iii (2017–19), chapter 26 (29 November 2017).


68 Council Directive 91/676/EEC concerning the protection of waters against pollution caused by nitrates from agricultural sources.

69 8693/18 ADD 9, pages 205–217.

70 Letter from George Eustice to Sir William Cash, dated 11 June 2018.

71 Cm 9577, “Health and Harmony: the future for food, farming and the environment in a Green Brexit”, Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs, February 2018.




Published: 17 July 2018