22nd September

Groundwater and the Water Framework Directive

Diagrammatic illustration of a groundwater body showing the range of receptors that must be considered in implementation of the WFD.© GSI

Diagrammatic illustration of a groundwater body showing the range of receptors that must be considered in implementation of the WFD.© GSI 

Donal Daly, GSI

Progress is always pleasing to report. In the last three years, the implementation of the Water Framework Directive (WFD) and the work undertaken by the Geological Survey of Ireland (GSI), Teagasc, EPA and RBD (river basin district) consultants have advanced considerably the role and understanding of groundwater in Ireland. 

Goundwater has been ‘characterised’, and in the process a new aquifer map of Ireland has been produced. All readily available groundwater data have been collected, soils and subsoils mapping have been undertaken, the hydrochemistry of groundwater has been assessed, and over 700 ‘groundwater bodies’ (the management units of the WFD) have been delineated and described.

Generally, groundwater is a ‘hidden resource’, and focus in the past was mainly concerned with its use for drinking water. Now the focus is broader, and the WFD requires that it should also be seen in terms of the link with, and contribution to, ecosystems, whether in surface water or wetlands.

Risk characterisation, which integrates pressures and impacts with the physical characterisation, has been undertaken to evaluate whether the groundwater bodies are ‘at risk’ of failing to meet the environmental objectives of the WFD. This has shown that a high proportion (63%) are indeed ‘probably at significant risk’; either from diffuse sources of pollution (mainly agricultural) or point sources (mainly old landfills, urban areas, or contaminated land).

Testing challenges are ahead. The first stage of implementation, which was completed in March, was a screening exercise, pointing the way forward and highlighting the main issues for the future.

Now further characterisation and monitoring will be undertaken to decrease uncertainties and check the validity of the risk assessment results. In the process, our understanding of groundwater in Ireland will improve further. More controversially perhaps, a programme of measures will be required to ensure that the status of groundwater bodies classed as ‘good’ does not deteriorate, and that the status of those classed as ‘poor’ is restored to ‘good’. This is likely to have implications for some current land uses in Ireland.

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