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Data source: German Environment Agency

Geographical Area: Germany

This table includes additional information to the above visualized indicators, i.e. a short definition of this indicator and a description of the politically determined target values as well as explaining the political intention behind selecting this indicator.


The indicator shows the share of monitoring points at which the threshold value of 50 mg/l of nitrate in the groundwater is not exceeded on an annual average.

Target and intention

Groundwater is a key element of the ecosystem. It is part of the water cycle and performs important ecological functions. Groundwater is also Germany’s most important drinking water resource. However, elevated nitrate contents impair the ecology of water bodies. The threshold value of 50 mg/l of nitrate in groundwater, as specified in the Groundwater Ordinance and in the Ordinance on the Protection of Surface Waters, should therefore not be exceeded at any monitoring point by 2030.

Data status

The data published in the indicator report 2022 is as of 31 October 2022. The data shown on this platform is updated regularly, so that more current data may be available online than published in the indicator report 2022.

Text from the Indicator Report 2022 

The nitrate content of groundwater is recorded by the Länder for the purpose of reporting the condition of groundwater in Germany to the European Environment Agency (EEA). The monitoring points used for this purpose are combined in the “EEA monitoring network”. The EEA monitoring network comprises a total of 1,214 monitoring sites and provides a representative picture of Germany. The data are summarised by the German Environment Agency based on information from the German Working Group on Water Issues of the Länder and the Federal Government represented by the Federal Environment Ministry (LAWA).

Like the indicator of phosphorus content in flowing waters, the nitrate indicator does not reveal how far above or below the threshold the readings have been. The indicator merely records how many of all the monitoring sites complied with the prescribed threshold. The nitrate load may have fallen sharply at some monitoring sites. Nevertheless, if the concentration remains above the maximum of 50 mg/l, the reduction will not be reflected in the indicator. The same applies to nitrate loads that have increased but are still below the threshold. The interpretation must also take into account that measures to reduce nitrate pollution may have a delayed effect, since the period of infiltration from the surface to the groundwater can take several years.

The naturally occurring level of nitrate lies between 0 and 10 mg/l. Concentrations between 10 and 25 mg/l indicate minor to medium loads. Concentrations between 25 and 50 milligrams per liter indicate severe groundwater contamination. Figures above the threshold of 50 mg/l which is set in the Ground Water Ordinance and which also underlies this indicator mean that the groundwater has a poor chemical status and cannot be used as drinking water without treatment.

In 2020 the target of less than 50 mg of nitrate per litre was met at 84.1 % of all monitoring sites. Since 2008, the percentage of monitoring sites at which this target is met has remained virtually unchanged. This means that the goal of recording concentrations below the threshold at all monitoring sites has not been achieved and that the indicator value is not recognisably moving in that direction. Conversely, in 2020 the nitrate threshold of 50 mg/l was exceeded at 15.9 % of the groundwater monitoring sites in the EEA monitoring network. At 17.8 % of the monitoring sites the nitrate value lay between 25 and 50 mg/l, which still indicates an elevated degree of pollution. This percentage rate also remained virtually unchanged over the years.

The pollution of groundwater with nitrate is caused primarily by the leaching of nitrate from various nitrogen fertilisers. Besides farmyard manures such as liquid manure and slurry, these also include the mineral fertilisers that are used in intensive crop-farming. The last few years have also seen an increase in the use of digestate, which occurs as a by-product of biogas power plants, as an agricultural fertiliser. All of these things can contribute to higher nitrate values in groundwater if fertilisation is not matched to specific crop requirements. Accordingly, the development of indicator 2.1.a “Nitrogen surplus in agriculture” influences the nitrate load in groundwater.

In order to measure the actual influence of agricultural activity on the nitrate load of waters, there is a separate system of nitrate reporting to the EU. For this report, the monitoring sites for waters in predominantly agricultural catchment areas are selected from the EEA site network. The nitrate load in that specific part of the monitoring network is therefore above the average for indicator 6.1.b.

The synoptic table provides information about the evaluation of the indicator in previous years. It shows if the weather symbol assigned to an indicator was rather stable or volatile in the past years. (Evaluation of the Indicator Report 2022 )


6.1.b Nitrate in groundwater


Compliance with the nitrate threshold value of 50 mg/l at all monitoring points by 2030






Evaluation <p>Wolke</p>