ETC/ICM Report 3/2017: Emissions of pollutants to Europe's waters - sources, pathways and trends

18 Oct 2017

Nils Hettich

This report provides an overview of the emissions to water at a European level for the major groups of pollutants (nutrients, organic matter, and priority substances) and the key emission sources: point sources such as urban waste water treatment plants (UWWTPs) and industry, and diffuse sources like agriculture, atmospheric deposition and traffic. The report gives both an overview at the European level and at the same time provides relevant spatial and temporal information on where emission sources are primarily located and how emission loads have developed in the last years. The analysis includes data from reporting of Member States on relevant EU legislation, e.g. in particular the relevant information contained in the European Pollutant Release and Transfer Register (E-PRTR), the Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive (UWWTD) and other data flows such as WISE- State of the Environment (SoE). 

The main conclusion of the assessment is that comparison of national inventories on releases to water is hampered by differences in definitions (sources, pathways), methods, reporting timeframes, formats and thresholds. Therefore it is complicated and time consuming for countries to submit the right information requested in an international inventory. This can result in reports which are incomplete, inconsistent and incomparable on an EU scale. 

For a set of 8 most commonly-reported pollutants, the present E-PRTR releases seem only to represent a limited part of the total releases to water. An estimate of the potentially missing releases has been made and, although there is uncertainty related to these estimates, there are strong indications that available reporting gives an incomplete view of the total releases to surface water. 

Actions that could be undertaken to improve the quality of the emissions to water data over the short time are: communicating missing UWWTPs with the countries; and encouraging the use of emission factors in the calculation of releases to water from UWWTPs for non-monitored pollutants. Over the mid-term, it is suggested to arrange detailed studies to specific activities and add releases of diffuse sources to E-PRTR. This should be combined with the start of a process of data and knowledge exchange on diffuse sources data and harmonization of quantification methods. Over the long term, is it suggested to harmonize EU emission reporting, improve the transparency, consistency and completeness of the emission inventories and reduce the reporting burden on the countries at the same time by combining of related reporting in UWWTD, WFD and E-PRTR and integration with the voluntary State of the Environment (SoE) reporting. 

Prepared by:

ETC/ICM members: Joost van den Roovaart, Nanette van Duijnhoven (Deltares), Benoit Fribourg-Blanc, Sonia Siauve (OIEau), Hana Prchalova (CENIA), editor: Anita Künitzer (UFZ)

EEA member: Caroline Whalley

Published by: ETC/ICM, October 2017, 94 pp.