‘You have to accept more weeds’. A better approach is needed for clean drinking water from Drentsche Aa

The quality of drinking water from the Drentsche Aa is insufficiently guaranteed. Farmers in the river basin must take into account stricter rules for crop protection products.

The Drentsche Aa provides 15 percent of the drinking water supply for the city of Groningen. This amounts to 7 billion liters annually. That is why there are strict rules in the Drenthe catchment area of ​​the stream to prevent harmful substances from entering the surface water. It has been clear for some time that these are not entirely satisfactory.

The province therefore commissioned a committee led by former deputy Marga Kool and former Noordenveld councilor Henk Kosters to make an inventory of what needs to be done to ensure that water quality is better guaranteed. Together with responsible deputy Willemien Meeuwissen (VVD), Kosters and Kool presented their findings on Tuesday in the report ‘Who Aa says…’.

Drinking water is safe

“To start with: Groningen’s drinking water supply is really safe,” says Meeuwissen. “The water company’s filters have enough capacity to remove the harmful substances.”

However, there are occasional violations of the standards for this in the Aa water, Kosters adds. “So it is not robust.”

These exceedances mainly occur in wet summers. During heavy rain showers, too many crop protection products flow into the surface water.

Stricter on admission

The committee therefore believes that more attention should be paid to these types of effects when admitting protective equipment to the market. However, this is not a competence of the province; this is the responsibility of the Board for the Authorization of Plant Protection Products and Biocides (Ctgb). The province can insist that Ctgb take more account of the effect of rain.

“A flushing effect can also occur during dry periods,” says Kosters. “For example, if a farmer starts spraying and flushes the resources into the surface water via the drainage.”

You have to accept more weeds

Not only farmers, but also ‘ordinary’ residents notice that stricter rules apply. For example, municipalities no longer use poison to control weeds. “You will occasionally have to accept that there are more weeds in your area,” says Kool. “Municipalities will also urge residents and companies to no longer combat weeds chemically, but mechanically, for example with a scraper.”

For example, Kool and Kosters and their committee have drawn up nine recommendations. Environmental service RUD Drenthe and the Dutch Food and Consumer Product Safety Authority (NVWA) must tighten their supervision. The NVWA must really tighten up supervision and enforcement of the rules, both believe. The NVWA in particular is said not to be sufficiently clear about the importance of the Drentsche Aa area for drinking water supply.

Drinking water commissioner

Kosters and Kool also believe that there should be a drinking water commissioner in the area. It would initially have to work for four years and all kinds of stakeholders in the area (farmers, water boards, municipalities, companies, etc.) would have to step in if additional efforts are necessary.

The report does not provide ready-made answers to the issue of a clean Drentsche Aa. According to Kosters and Kool, it is the guideline for discussions in the area between all parties about the future design of the area. This means that it may take some time before there is clarity for farmers in the area about what is and is not allowed.

The farmers are fully involved, as is evident from Kosters’ account. “They really want to change and use fewer resources.” According to him, creative solutions are needed to reduce the risk for farmers. “Sometimes a farmer has doubts: should I spray or not? If he doesn’t, he could suffer damage. An insurance or a fund could overcome that.”