Water quality

The quality of surface water

Good water quality is important for the people and nature. We use surface water to produce drinking water, to fish in and for recreational activities. Much of Dutch nature is dependent on water from lakes, ponds, streams and rivers.

Pollution by industry and households has significantly reduced since the 1970s because the government started to impose rules on the discharging of water. Since then, although the physical and chemical water quality has improved significantly, work still needs to be done on the ecological water quality. One of the reasons for this is that it always takes a while before the ecology responds to improved water quality.

At this moment in time the most important causes of insufficient water quality are:

Pollution - Over-fertilisation is one of the major causes of water contamination. Noxious substances can get into the water via soil contamination, via the sewer (for example drug residues), or by soot that falls into the water when it rains. Past contamination is also still causing problems.

Organisation - Most waterways in the Netherlands have been adapted over the years. Banks have been reinforced, the course of streams straightened and barrages, dams and pumping stations built. As a result, plants and animals are finding it more difficult to establish themselves and move around.

The government is taking measures to improve water quality. Legislation has been brought in to combat pollution. Water boards and Rijkswaterstaat are taking measurements, performing maintenance and structuring the water in a more natural fashion. Companies and private individuals are also working to improve water quality, for example through more environmental-friendly maintenance and more natural structuring.

edited January 5th 2018

What is the quality of the surface water:


The following maps are available outside the Atlas: 

Water quality and recreation

Beautiful, clean and life-giving water is great for relaxation and recreational activities. These things are good for your health.


Water-related illnesses

Contaminated water can cause illnesses in humans and animals through skin contact or swallowing. Possible health issues which may arise after swimming in contaminated surface water are gastrointestinal infections, skin complaints (e.g. swimmer's itch), ear or eye infections and/or flu-like symptoms. For that reason the water quality of official bathing water locations during the bathing season is checked every two weeks. Read more about bathing water and health on the Bathing water page or on the website of Zwemwater.nl.

edited January 5th 2018

What is the government doing?

The Dutch water authorities, meaning the water boards and Rijkswaterstaat, are taking measures to improve water quality. This can be done by, for example, creating nature-friendly banks, reducing excess fertiliser in the water, or by the constructing fishways. In addition, the water boards are purifying the waste water in sewage treatment plants. The water authorities describe their plans every six years in the river basin management plans.


Water Framework Directive

Water is not limited by borders. For that reason the same water quality standards apply in all countries of the European Union (EU). These standards are laid down in the European Water Framework Directive. This states, among other things:

  • how much heavy metals and other substances are permitted in the water;
  • which types of fish should be able to live in the water.

    In addition, other European guidelines impose standards on water quality, often as an interpretation of or a supplement to the Water Framework Directive. One example is the Groundwater Directive and the European Bathing Water Directive.

(source Rijksoverheid.nl)


Checking the water quality

The government regularly checks water quality. Rijkswaterstaat checks the water along the coast and in the large lakes, rivers and canals. The water boards do the same for regional waters. The government checks:

  • The amount of harmful substances in the water. This is also referred to as the chemical quality. The European standards are stated in the Priority Substances Directive and the Groundwater Directive.
  • The water temperature and the amount of nutrients, plants and animals. This is also referred to as the ecological quality. The applicable requirements differ per type of water (ditch, lake, river, coastal water). The standards are laid down in the Water monitoring framework directive scheme [Regeling monitoring kaderrichtlijn water].


Water plants, fish and other animals are also an indication of the quality of the water. For example, some plants need extremely clean water in order to survive.

(source Rijksoverheid.nl)

edited January 5th 2018

What can you do yourself?

Keep Dutch surface water clean. Do not feed the fish and do not throw any water plants from your aquarium into the surface water.

Is something wrong?

If so, contact your water board in the event of pollution of the surface water or unwanted discharges. This can also be done centrally via the Water Notification Centre.

edited January 5th 2018