Access to safe drinking water and sanitary facilities, and sustainable water management are at the centre of SDG 6. As everyone in the Netherlands has access to clean drinking water, in the context of SDG 6 we examine the affordability of drinking water, water quality and efficiency of water use.
Summary of results
- Medium-term trends (2015-2022) have changed direction for three indicators: phosphorus and nitrogen removal from urban waste water, and abstraction of fresh surface water have all switched from increasing well-being to neutral.
- Two medium-terms trends point to decreasing well-being: fauna in freshwater and marshes are declining and the chemical quality of Dutch water is deteriorating.
- The Netherlands is in the middle group of the EU rankings for most indicators, with the exception of fresh surface water abstraction: it abstracts more water than most other countries in Europe.
Dashboard and indicators
Access to safe drinking water and sanitary facilities, and sustainable water management are the main themes of SDG 6. Everyone in the Netherlands has access to drinking water and sanitary facilities. The dashboard therefore includes indicators on other water-related aspects, including the affordability of drinking water. Demand for drinking water has risen during the recent dry and hot summers. Population growth, housing construction and increasing economic activity are also pushing up demand. Since there are few options for obtaining more water, drinking water companies are increasingly competing with the interests of nature, agriculture and climate measures to produce water, and this in turn is putting more and more pressure on water security. The dashboard also includes indicators on water quality and the efficiency of water consumption. Less pollution in discharges, water purification and reuse, and lower water consumption should all lead to improved water quality and prevent water shortages. Lastly, using water more efficiently will reduce pressure on fresh water sources in times of increasing economic activity.
Trends in the Netherlands for SDG 6 generally point to stable well-being. There are two exceptions: the decline in fauna in fresh water and marshes, and the deteriorating chemical quality of water. Comparison with other EU countries is only possible for a few SDG 6 indicators, and most of these put the Netherlands in the middle group.
Resources and opportunities
Resources and opportunities relate to the means used to provide households with clean and affordable drinking water. Drinking water supply is very well regulated in the Netherlands, although water companies are reporting increasing concern about the security of the water supply. Demand for water is increasing: summers are becoming drier, population growth means more people need water, more homes are being built – which all need a water mains connection – and economic activity continues to increase. On the other hand, the volume of available fresh water to produce drinking water is decreasing. In addition, the quality of ground and surface water is not always sufficient to turn it into drinking water. The production costs of water – 1.21 euros per m3 on average in 2022 – were around the same order of magnitude as at the start of the trend period in 2015. End-users paid an average 1.67 euros per m3 for drinking water in 2022. This higher amount includes charges for groundwater tax, distribution refunds, mains water tax and VAT.
Use relates to purification of waste water, extraction of water from the environment and efficiency of drinking water use (water productivity). Three trends have turned from green to neutral here. Nitrogen and phosphorus removal rates in urban waste water treatment were 85 percent and 88 percent respectively in 2021.
Households as well as businesses use water. If we divide total fresh water extraction by the overall number of inhabitants in the Netherlands, the result is 397 m3 of fresh surface water extracted per capita in 2021. Compared with other EU countries, this is a considerable amount, and is partly caused the substantial number of Dutch companies that use large volumes of cooling water. Salt water is now increasingly used for cooling purposes, which is favourable as water shortages concern only fresh water. Once it is discharged, fresh cooling water does become available for reuse; discharged salt cooling water flows back into the sea.
Groundwater is also extracted for economic activities and household use. The volume of extracted groundwater per capita was much larger in 2018, 2019 and 2020 than in previous years. The dry summers in these years in particular led to a substantial increase in water consumption by agriculture and drinking water companies. More rain fell in 2021, and it was often enough for irrigation purposes so that less groundwater had to be used for this.
Water stress is the percentage of fresh water extracted for economic use from the total renewable amount of fresh water, taking into account the amount of water needed by the environment. It is an indication of whether the population and the economy are using too much water. Water stress was slightly lower in 2021 (17.1 percent) than in 2020.
Water productivity – a benchmark for the efficiency of water consumption by trade and industry – peaked in 2021, at 94 euros of value added per m3. The trend is rising, and the Netherlands was in the middle range of the EU in 2019.
Outcomes for this SDG refer to the quality of surface water and the sustainability of water consumption. Trends point to stable or even declining well-being. Water stress reflects the ratio of extracted fresh water to available renewable fresh water sources. Many animal species in the Netherlands depend on clean water in rivers, lakes, canals and ditches. Populations of species of fish, breeding birds, amphibians, dragonflies, mammals and butterflies typical of these ecosystems are declining. The reasons are varied, and differ between species, but it is evident that water quality is not yet sufficient for these specific species. Desiccation may also be contributing to this.
Biological water quality (in terms of the ecosystem for algae, water plants, fish and macrofauna) and chemical water quality are assessed in accordance with the system used in the European Water Framework Directive, which was introduced to protect and improve aquatic ecosystems and sustainable water use. Under the directive, EU member countries have to report data to the European Commission every six years. The ecosystem accounts compiled by CBS and Wageningen University convert data on individual bodies of water to the overall percentage of good quality surface water in the Netherlands. Many smaller bodies of water comply with the standard in themselves, but in terms of total surface water only a relatively small proportion of Dutch water is compliant.
Nevertheless, many species of macrofauna and aquatic plants are found in minor brooks and ditches. In 2021, 3.7 percent of Dutch surface water was of good biological quality, and 1.4 percent met chemical quality standards. The trend in chemical quality is downward; in 2015, the first year of measurement, it was still 10.4 percent. More chemical substances have been included in the analysis since 2021, following the introduction of a new river basin management plan which included a number of threshold adjustments. The selection is expected to remain unchanged in the coming years.
Eutrophication of Dutch surface water from deposits of nitrogen compounds was the equivalent of 5.0 kilograms per capita in 2020, lower than at the start of the trend period in 2015 (5.6 kilograms), but higher than in 2019 (4.8 kilograms). Yearly fluctuations in precipitation play a role here. The manufacturing industry and water purification plants have taken measures in recent years to reduce pressure on the environment. Together, natural and agricultural land are the main source of nitrogen burden in water: in 2020, nearly 17.4 percent of runoff came from nature areas. Atmospheric deposition of nitrogen directly onto surface water was also a main source.
Bathing water quality is measured yearly by the European Environmental Agency (EEA). The quality of inland bathing water in the Netherlands is measured at 649 different sampling points. Almost three-quarters of these qualified as ‘excellent’ in 2022. Indirectly, this indicator is also relevant to the production of drinking water, as in the Netherlands surface water in particular is extracted alongside groundwater to produce tap water. Coastal bathing waters are also sampled at 91 points. Here 85.7 percent were assigned the highest quality norm (see SDG 14 dashboard). These scores put the Netherlands in the middle group of EU countries.
Subjective assessment concerns satisfaction with drinking water. In 2019, water company customers gave their water a score of 8.7 out of 10, the highest ever recorded. However, this satisfaction is measured once every three years, so there are not enough data to calculate a trend for 2015-2022.