Groningen’s water board faces big investments to purify medicines, microplastics and manure before they flow to the sea.

Article by Guido Cocconi

Today, across the Netherlands the water boards elections will take place alongside province boards.

Water boards are in charge of keeping the lowlands safe from flooding and maintaining water quality and quantity across the seasons. Water boards cooperate but are not in charge of the companies that provide tap drinking water to the public.

Noorderzijlvest, the board in charge for management of waters in the provinces of Groningen, north and central Drenthe and parts of eastern Friesland, faces future expensive investments to purify pollutants in the water and meet the EU commitments for good quality in water bodies by 2027. “Compared to 20-30 years ago water quality is better as the agriculture and industry have improved much on this although new pollutants pose challenges for the future” says Roland van der Schaaf, Dykewarden at Noorderzijlvest.

Groningen’s water board has some of the most expensive water taxes for residents in the country. This is due to the specific extra work and maintenance required of them (e.g Dykes, below the sea level management) and the fact that they serve a low populated area.

Van Ketwich Verschuurbrug Drawbridge.

Elze Reidsema, former chairman and chief candidate for Water Natuurlijk list, says that the expenses of the water board are mostly spread on residents. Farmers and businesses do contribute but the board is considering reforming the tax system to implement the principle “the polluter pays“, “If you make the water very dirty you should pay for the environmental costs, at the moment it is not in effect and sometimes it is not fair” says Reidsema .

Friesland Campina, one of the top 5 Dairy companies in the world, has recently been reported to have dumped nitrogen and phosphate rich wastewaters into the Wadden sea. Members of the water board claim these waters do not meet the safety standards.

Cattle pasture in the province of Groningen, Photo Credit: Guido Cocconi

“We are of the opinion that the parties responsible for the deterioration of the water quality should be held accountable financially as well, they must contribute more if we want to accomplish the goals” Ale Ten Cate co-founder of Studenten and Water list.

With global warming, water temperature is a major concern too: “a few degrees more can have a huge impact on the quality of ecological life but as a water authority the only possibility we have is to plant more trees around water bodies” says Roland van der Schaaf.

De Helper windmill in Paterswoldsemeer.

Cattle manure and fertilizers pollute the surface waters but microplastics and medicines are especially difficult to filter out from the sewage and these inevitably end up in the canals that flow into the Wadden sea, harming the wildlife.

Wearing out of vehicle tyres, synthetic clothing dumping and dust from urban areas are the major sources of microplastics in the surface waters. Most of these are sorted of but the smallest and most harmful particles can be as much as 2.5 microns (0,0025 mm) and the filters required are costly.

Medicines such as painkillers and anti-inflammatory drugs we eat end up being flushed into the sewages, these wastewaters need expensive treatments before release into open waters and these inevitably end up contaminating the Wadden sea.

Diclofenac, commonly used for treating muscle inflammation is present in the canal’s waters.

Diclofenac is a terrible one, the leftovers of medicines in wastewater is really crazy and we have to do some very big investments to deal with that” says Reidsema “restoring biodiversity in water bodies and the storage of water in our highest grounds are the other major challanges”.

Population pressure and drier summers also pose a challenge for drinking water supply which is currently extracted from underground sources, yet there are concerns that in the future this supply will be at risk, and the quality of surface reservoirs will be crucial. “The quality of the drinking water in the Netherlands is very high and we make sure that the surface reservoirs for tap water use always meet these high standards” says Roland van der Schaaf.

Dykes north of Groningen, Photo Credit: Lukas Stock.

Photo Copyright: Guido Cocconi

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