The Water Framework Directive (WFD) in Europe aims, inter alia, to achieve at least “good” water quality status by 2015 by mitigating the causes of pollution. However, with the implementation of programmes of measures in 2012, many catchments may not achieve good water quality status within this timeframe due to the time lag of nutrient transport from source to receptor via hydrological and hydrogeological pathways. An appraisal of catchment time lag issues offers a more realistic scientifically based timescale for expected water quality improvements in response to mitigation measures implemented under the WFD. A simplified methodology for the calculation of nitrate time lag in a variety of Irish hydrogeological scenarios is presented, based on unsaturated vertical and aquifer flushing times required to reach environmental quality standards. Horizontal travel time is estimated for first occurrence of nutrients in a surface water body. The results show that achievement of good water quality status in the Republic of Ireland for some waterbodies may be too optimistic within the current timeframe of 2015 targets but improvements are predicted within subsequent 6- and 12-year cycles.