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The European environment – state and outlook 2010

The European environment – state and outlook 2010

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Freshwaters - Policy responses (SOER 2010)

Nitrogen management plans in the Belgian regions

Key message

Several measures are taken in various action programmes in order to reduce nitrate concentration in groundwater bodies.

Nitrogen management plans (Nitrates Directive)

To reduce the environmental nitrate pollution in general and to reduce treatment to make water drinkable, the three Belgian regions have taken several measures listed in different action programmes such as the Programme for the Sustainable Management of Nitrogen in Agriculture (PGDA-2) in the Walloon Region or the Manure decree and its related manure action plans in the Flemish Region (in accordance with the European ‘Nitrates’ Directive). These programmes not only impose various measures on farmers to reduce nitrogen leaching (e.g. norms for fertiliser application, ‘nitrate trap’ crops, storage of livestock effluent, measurements of potentially leachable nitrate in the soil...) but also promote the use of low nutrient feed, and foster farmer know-how and good agricultural practice. Furthermore the implemented expanded multifunctional monitoring networks in Flanders and Wallonia are part of the action programmes and help to evaluate the effects of measures and the related nitrates trend evolution.

The regions are also pursuing a programme to protect drinking water source areas by designating protection zones for groundwater and regulating some activities within these zones. If the quality of the groundwater does not improve, they intend to apply supplementary measures, which are detailed in river basin district management plans. 


Waste water treatment in the Belgian regions

Key message

Waste water collection and treatment are progressing.


Figure 5: Treatment of domestic waste water

Evolution of the part of population connected to Urban Waste Water Treatment Plants (UWWTP) in Belgium, by Region (Sources: IRCEL-CELINE, SPGE, AQUAFIN)
Data source
Figure 5: Treatment of domestic waste water
Fullscreen image Original link

Water treatment (Urban Waste Water Directive)

Between 2000 and 2007, the percentage of the national population connected to Urban Waste Water Treatment Plants (UWWT) (Belgium as a whole) increased from 42 % to 69 %. There are some differences between the regions but the overall trend is similar, after smaller progress in the middle of the decade, the level increased faster during the last few years. The new UWWT-plant of Brussels-North gives a boost to the percentage.


Estimation of the Evolution of the part (%) of population connected to Urban Waste Water Treatment Plants (UWWTP) in Belgium, by region:














































 * For Brussels, the data are an estimation based on Equivalent Inhabitant instead of inhabitants


Actions of the Flemish Region concerning urban waste water

Key message

In the Flemish Region the level of wastewater treatment is increasing faster again and sewerage level is increasing slowly.

Sewerage level increasing slowly

At the end of 2007, the sewerage level was 87 %. As it would be too expensive to connect all inhabitants to the sewerage system, the sewerage level will never reach 100 %. For this reason, the level of implementation of the sewerage system is monitored. The implementation level is the number of inhabitants that currently are connected to this sewerage system with respect to the number of inhabitants that was foreseen by the municipalities to discharge into the sewerage system when drafting the total sewerage plans (TSPs). At the end of 2007, the implementation level in Flanders was 92 %.

The collection of wastewater is a joint responsibility of the region and the municipalities. Municipalities construct the sewers and connect the households, and the region connects the sewage systems to UWWT-plants. The region subsidises the construction of sewers and small-scale UWWT-plants.

Level of wastewater treatment increasing faster again

At the end of 2007, the level of wastewater treatment was 70.3 %, compared with 66.6 % in 2006. In 2003 and 2004, the contract award rate of Aquafin was very low, partly because of a number of blocked projects for which additional action was taken. In 2006 and particularly in 2007, the contract award rate was noticeably higher. In order to reach the 80 % target set in the MINAplan3+ (2008-2010), it will be necessary to keep the contract award rate in the coming years comparable with that of 2007. Estimates for 2008 indicate a further increase of the level till above 73 %. At the end of 2008, 232 regional UWWT-plants were operational in Flanders. Nine new plants were added, six of which had a capacity of more than 2 000 p.e. (important for the European Directive on Urban Waste Water). The average removal rate for 2008 for the entire Flemish Region of nitrogen and phosphorus reached 77 % and 84 % respectively.


Actions of the Walloon Region concerning urban waste water

Key message

The Walloon Region is catching up concerning waste water treatment capacity and the collecting system network widens.

The Walloon Region is catching up

As of 31 December 2008, Wallonia had 358 UWWTPs, 55 % of which were low capacity (treating urban wastewater from agglomerations with a population equivalent (p.e.) less than 2 000). In total, the treatment plants can treat ± 3 370 000 p.e., which makes the plants equipment rate for the Walloon Region 73 %. At the end of 2008, the treatment plants that are still to be installed represented 8.5 % of the objectives which needed to be reached at the end of 2005.

Since the creation of the Société Publique de Gestion de l’Eau (SPGE) in 2000, collective treatment of wastewater has improved, largely thanks to the building of large-capacity public treatment plants, Wallonia’s latest and biggest of which (Liège-Oupeye: 446 500 p.e.) was opened in November 2007. Among the 61 UWWTPs with a capacity of 10 000 p.e. and over, 49 are equipped with tertiary denitrification and dephosphorisation treatments (for a total capacity of 2 333 500 p.e.), so as to respond to the requirements of the 91/271/EEC directive. Furthermore, at the end of 2008, 99 % of urban wastewater treatment plants with a capacity of more than 2 000 p.e. were discharging water which complied with European requirements in terms of organic pollution.

The collecting system network widens

According to the PASHs (Plans d'Assainissement par Sous-Bassins Hydrographiques), the total length of the sewerage network should be 19 530 km in Wallonia. At the end of 2008, 84,5 % of sewers were constructed, and ± 60 % of municipalities had sewage rates higher than 80 %. Performance in terms of collection of urban wastewater does not seem so good, given that 40% of collectors are yet to be installed. However, existing waterways already collect most effluent, with the density of the habitat upstream of future collectors generally being less elevated than at the agglomerations centers. The region is encouraging the municipalities which have agreed a ‘contrat d’agglomération’ to complete their sewerage networks. Thanks to this contract, they can have access to a sewerage funding system which will halve their contribution to the total cost of the sewerage work.


Actions of the Brussels-Capital Region concerning urban waste water

Key message

Waste water of 98% of equivalent inhabitants is now treated in treatment plants.

In order to fulfill European obligations, the Brussels Capital Region has two operational wastewater treatment plants, one in the south (2000) and one in the north (2007) of Brussels. About 98% of wastewater (expressed as equivalent inhabitants) rejected in the Brussels-Capital Region is currently collected and treated. This level will reach 100% after construction and connection of two additional collectors at the South plant. Work to adapt the south purification plant is scheduled in order to equip it with so-called “tertiary” treatment that will improve its performance with regard to removal of nitrogen and phosphorus in order to comply with the prevailing European legislation. As these stations also treat a part of the wastewater produced in the Flemish Region, investment and exploitation costs are shared. A collaboration agreement stipulates the contribution of the Flemish Region at 15.7 % for the ‘North’ plant and at 11.7 % for the ‘South’ plant. Making the ‘North’ plant operational was a major step forward.