The present water quality of the Humber rivers and coastal zone depends on a complex interplay of factors, including physical ones, such as the underlying geology, which influences soil type, climatic ones, such as the rainfall, which influences runoff, socio-economic ones, which influence present-day human activities in the catchment, and the legacy of former activities, such as contaminated sediments from mining. All of these factors affect the fluxes of nutrients and other contaminants to the rivers and coastal zone. The Water Framework Directive (WFD) requires the production of a river basin management plan intended to lead to the achievement of good chemical and ecological status for all water bodies in the catchment over the next two decades. This paper provides an overview of the current environmental and socio-economic state of the Humber catchment and coastal zone, and broadly examines how socio-economic drivers affect the fluxes of nutrients and contaminants to the coastal zone, using the driver–pressure–state–impact–response (DPSIR) approach. This is followed by an overview of future research, describing the use of scenarios to simulate future fluxes and provide a consistent framework to evaluate potential policies to improve water quality in the estuary. The Humber catchment is one of eight case studies within a European research project, EUROCAT (EVK1-CT-2000-00044), which aims to achieve integrated catchment and coastal zone management by analysing the response of the coastal sea to changes in fluxes of nutrients and contaminants from the catchments. For the Humber case study, the research focuses on the fluxes of two nutrient elements, N and P, and four metal contaminants, As, Cu, Pb and Zn. The project requires the integration of scientific and socio-economic approaches, bringing together quantitative environmental data garnered for individual river catchments and coastal zones in previous research programmes, and local and regional socio-economic data, to aid decision-makers in their search for integrated and sustainable coastal zone management strategies.