Billions from the EU funds and the state budget are spent to improve water quality. However, instead of investigating the causes of pollution, only its consequences are addressed

Press Release on audit No 20/04 – 19 July 2021

The Supreme Audit Office examined funds spent on measures to ensure sustainable water quality and minimise pollution from agricultural activity. The Czech state spent more than CZK 2.7 billion from EU funds and the state budget between 2013 and 2020. From this sum, so-called National Action Plans measures were funded, as well as water quality monitoring and the modernisation of water treatment technologies. However, the quality of surface water and groundwater did not improve over this period. The presence of pesticide and nitrogen compounds even increased in some places. This has affected the quality of drinking water resources. There is an increasing number of permitted exemptions from the sanitary limit for drinking water, mainly due to pesticide substances. The state spends billions of EU funds on modernising technologies in drinking water treatment plants, but this does not address the causes of pollution.

Agricultural activities – which receive significant support from both national and EU funds – are the main polluter of surface water and groundwater with pesticide and nitrogen compounds. Between 2013 and 2019, agricultural operators received more than CZK 30 billion per year. However, the Czech state’s subsidy system does not encourage farmers to change their practices and reduce the use of pesticides.

The Ministry of Agriculture (MoA) is also failing to ensure the implementation of so-called principles of integrated pest management (IPM). These should reduce the risks and the impact of pesticide use on human health and the environment. The MoA checks compliance with these principles only formally and only on a fraction of farmers. This represents around 0.28% of the total number of farmers per year. At the same time, the Ministry of Agriculture cannot apply penalties for failure to comply with IPM principles.

Moreover, the State does not have accurate and up-to-date information on the actual consumption of pesticides and fertilisers in agriculture. There is no mandatory electronic record of pesticide consumption. Such data could also be used by the Czech Hydrometeorological Institute (CHMI) and water supply or sanitary station operators. However, the Ministry only monitors the quantities of substances placed on the market in the Czech Republic and identifies annual data on pesticide consumption for only 10% of farmers. Moreover, it does not verify these data. Electronic data on fertiliser use are transmitted by farmers to the MoA only on a voluntary basis, so the MoA does not have information on actual fertiliser consumption in the Czech Republic.

To improve water status and change farmers’ practice to date, the MoA, the Ministry of Environment (MoE) and the Ministry of Health (MoH) have developed two successive national action plans. The MoA and the MoE spent CZK 65 million on national action plans measures. However, these were mostly formal support measures whose real impact on improving water quality was negligible.

In the audited period, the pesticide and nitrogen content in surface water and groundwater did not change. In some places, the values of these substances even increased. In groundwater, pesticides appeared in more than half of the sites monitored by the CHMI. In the case of surface water, pesticides appeared in almost all of the sites monitored. For surface waters, substances belonging to the so-called historical burden category, i.e., substances not used or banned for a long period of time, still appear in more than 80% of the sites monitored.

The deteriorated quality of groundwater and surface water results in a deterioration in the quality of drinking water sources. This increases the number of permitted exemptions from the sanitary limit for drinking water. The main reason for this is the increased presence of pesticide substances. While in 2013, there were 15 areas, in 2019, there were 105 areas.

To ensure safe drinking water, water operators need to upgrade water treatment technologies. This requires considerable financial resources. The modernisation of the water treatment plants Plzeň and Želivka amounted to CZK 2.56 billion. Therefore, the MoE distributes aid from EU funds for this purpose. Such investments, while improving the quality of drinking water, do not address the causes of pollution.

Exemptions from the sanitary limit for drinking water mainly concern water treatment plants supplying areas of up to five thousand inhabitants. As the cost of new water treatment technologies is very high, it will be difficult for these areas to secure enough money for the necessary technologies without subsidies. This may have an impact on the financial sustainability of ensuring drinking water quality in the future.

A data annex on groundwater and surface water quality can be found here:

Communication Department
Supreme Audit Office

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