Swiss nitrate strategy focuses on groundwater

Farmers offered subsidies to switch to livestock grazing to cut drinking wells pollution

A Swiss government strategy to increase the level of protection given to groundwater drinking wells from nitrate pollution is progressing well, according to information presented at a conference held on Friday. The strategy began last year and its primary tool is to subsidise a switch from arable farming to livestock grazing in areas where waters feed groundwater reserves used for drinking water.

Participants heard that the subsidies had been accepted without difficulty by farmers participating in two pilot projects in the Fribourg canton and the aim now was to expand the scheme. According to the Swiss environment agency, some 10-20% of Swiss groundwater drinking wells have nitrate levels above 25 milligrams per litre (mg/l), which is the country's safety limit for groundwater sources used for drinking water. The nitrate limit for surface water is 50 mg/l, the same that has been introduced in the EU under the 1991 nitrates directive.

The groundwater strategy makes up a third component of Switzerland's policy on nitrate pollution, which has already included a programme of repairs to water distribution systems to reduce the risk of nitrate contamination and limits on livestock numbers. The official claimed that Switzerland was the first country in Europe to pursue a policy of limiting arable farming in targeted areas in order to reduce nitrate soil deposition from air and its eventual leaching into groundwater.

Follow Up:
Swiss environment agency, tel: +41 31 322 9311, and press release.

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