Catchment News

New EEA report: Agricultural policy needs to secure stronger environmental improvements for water in Europe

Reducing pressures from agriculture is key to improving the status of Europe’s rivers, lakes, transitional, coastal waters and seas as well as groundwater bodies. A European Environment Agency (EEA) assessment, published today, shows that wider uptake of sustainable agricultural management practices is needed for improving the state of water, as well as biodiversity.

Agricultural management practices should be based on agroecological principles, organic farming and nature-based solutions, the EEA report ‘Water and agriculture; towards sustainable solutions,’ says. To achieve this, more ambitious measures to promote sustainable agriculture are needed in the upcoming EU common agricultural policy 2021-2027.

Recent EEA studies have shown that many of Europe’s surface and groundwaters are not in good status and the state of Europe’s regional seas is alarming.

Agricultural activities are an important source of pressures on Europe’s waters, due to nutrient and chemical pollution, water abstraction and physical changes in habitats, including through water storage and land drainage.

Responding to these challenges is urgent, since climate change impacts in parts of Europe are exacerbating pressures on water and pose a risk to agricultural production.

The EEA assessment shows that a wide variety of management measures exist to tackle agricultural pressures on the water environment. While some progress has been made to reduce agricultural pressures in the 20th century, they remain at unsustainable levels with few signs of improvement over the past 10 years. 

The EEA report points to three areas of improvement:

  • Wider uptake of sustainable management practices based on agroecological principles, organic farming and nature- based solutions. Such practices have multiple sustainability benefits, reducing pressures on water, while also reducing greenhouse gas emissions, enhance the long-term resilience of agriculture to climate pressures and benefit biodiversity
  • Implementation and integration of EU policies. This requires tackling incentives leading to pressures on water and prioritising funding for sustainable agriculture in the upcoming strategic plans of the EU common agricultural policy 2021-2027
  • More holistic approaches to facilitate the transition to sustainable agriculture. Achieving the reductions needed to reach water and other environmental targets requires a combined approach, changing both agricultural practices and consumer demands, which is supported by a transition in food and energy systems

The European Commission has put forward several initiatives under the European Green Deal to strengthen sustainability, including the biodiversity 2030, farm-to-fork and climate adaptation strategies, and the upcoming restoration directive, and zero pollution and balanced nutrient management action plans. If fully implemented and operationalised, the EEA assessment states, the ambitious new targets will support a more resilient and sustainable future.

Learn more:

EEA Press Release:

EEA Report – Water and agriculture: towards sustainable solutions

Who is involved?

Quite simply, everyone in Ireland has a role to play. This can be from something as simple as making sure you don’t pollute your local stream, or a local community working together to establish a Rivers Trust to enhance the rivers and lakes in their area, to a Government Department or Agency helping a Minister implement a new policy to help protect and enhance all our water bodies.

This website has been developed and is maintained by the Environmental Protection Agency, and is a collaboration between the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Local Authority Waters Programme.


Local Authority Waters Programme

The Local Authority Waters Programme coordinates the efforts of local authorities and other public bodies in the implementation of the River Basin Management Plan, and supports local community and stakeholder involvement in managing our natural waters, for everyone’s benefit.


Environmental Protection Agency

The EPA is responsible for coordinating the monitoring, assessment and reporting on the status of our 4,842 water bodies, looking at trends and changes, determining which waterbodies are at risk and what could be causing this, and drafting environmental objectives for each.


Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage

The Department is responsible for making sure that the right policies, regulations and resources are in place to implement the Water Framework Directive, and developing a River Basin Management Plan and Programme of Measures to protect and restore our waters.