2. Introduction

2.1.    Main objectives of the assessment of groundwater quantitative status

The current report focuses on presenting and analyzing information around the quantitative status of the European Groundwater Bodies (Groundwater body). The background information has been collected from the WFD RBMPs. Based on the available data, a series of graphs has been produced, with the purpose of classifying the Groundwater bodies according to their quantitative status and identifying the main drivers and pressures. Furthermore, the report touches on the criteria used by the different Member States to classify the groundwater bodies, identifies and groups the response measures (basic and supplementary) adopted by the MS in view of improving the quantitative status by 2015 and beyond, and attempts an assessment of their effectives by linking pressures-state-impacts. A selection of case studies reflecting different management issues is also presented and key messages on actions needed in relation to securing good groundwater quantitative status are reflected.

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2.2.    Definition of good groundwater quantitative status

The definition of good groundwater quantitative status requires that the level of groundwater in the groundwater body is such that the available groundwater resource is not exceeded by the long-term annual average rate of abstraction.

Accordingly, the level of groundwater is not subject to anthropogenic alterations such as would result in:

  1. failure to achieve the environmental objectives specified under Article 4 for associated surface waters,
  2. any significant diminution in the status of such waters,
  3. any significant damage to terrestrial ecosystems which depend directly on the groundwater body,

and alterations to flow direction resulting from level changes may occur temporarily, or continuously in a spatially limited area, but such reversals do not cause saltwater or other intrusion, and do not indicate a sustained and clearly identified anthropogenically induced trend in flow direction likely to result in such intrusions.


To determine the overall quantitative status for a Groundwater body, a series of tests should be applied that consider the impacts of anthropogenically induced long-term alterations in groundwater level and/or flow. Each test will assess whether the Groundwater body is meeting the relevant environmental objectives. Not all environmental objectives will apply to every Groundwater body. Therefore only the relevant tests will need to be applied as necessary. There is an overlap with chemical status assessment for some elements of quantitative status assessment, in particular the assessment relating to saline intrusion. In this case the assessment for chemical and quantitative status for this element can be combined and a single test carried out. For others there will be a need to share information between the chemical and quantitative assessments.

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2.3.    European legislative setting in relation to groundwater

European water policy addresses issues regarding groundwater since the late 1970s. The first legislative instrument (Groundwater Directive 80/68/EC) was adopted in 1980 for the protection of groundwater against pollution caused by certain dangerous substances. The purpose of the Groundwater Directive was to prevent the pollution of groundwater by high priority substances, to subject the discharge of other substances to an authorization procedure, and to address the impacts of existing pollution. This Groundwater Directive (80/68/EC) remains effective until 2013 when it will be replaced by the new Groundwater Directive (2006/118/EC).

In 2000, the Water Framework Directive (2000/60/EC) came into force, establishing the basic principles of sustainable water policy in the European Union. The WFD provides a general framework for groundwater protection with the aim to establish good groundwater status by 2015.

Good groundwater status comprises of both quantitative and chemical criteria. In order to achieve good quantitative groundwater status, it is required that the long-term available groundwater resource is not exceeded by the long-term annual average rate of abstraction and that groundwater abstraction does not cause failure of good ecological status in dependent surface water bodies (incl. wetlands) and saline or other intrusions. In addition, in order to achieve good groundwater chemical status, groundwater bodies need to have such concentrations of pollutants and electrical conductivity so as not to exhibit effects of saline or other intrusions and cause failure of good ecological status in dependent surface water bodies (incl. wetlands).

Based on the WFD, member states are required to protect groundwater bodies by taking the following steps:

1.       define groundwater bodies and classify the pressures and impacts of human activity on both chemical and quantitative quality

2.       establish registers of protected areas within each river basin district, that include groundwater bodies that are used for the extraction of drinking water and are identified as vulnerable under the Nitrates Directive 91/676/EEC, or affect protected areas defined by the Habitats Directive (92/43/EC) and the Birds Directive (2009/147/EC)

3.       establish groundwater monitoring networks based on the results of the classification analysis so as to provide a comprehensive overview of groundwater chemical and quantitative status

4.       include information regarding groundwater status within the river basin management plan (RBMP)

5.       include the principle of recovery of costs for water services, including environmental and resource costs in accordance with the polluter pays principle

6.       establish a programme of measures for achieving good groundwater status


The WFD (Article 17) required the proposal of specific measures to prevent and control groundwater pollution and achieve good groundwater status. Consequently, in 2006, the Commission adopted the new Groundwater Directive (2006/118/EC) on the protection of groundwater against pollution and deterioration. This new Groundwater Directive complements the WFD by requesting the establishment of groundwater quality standards and pollution trend studies, in order to reverse and prevent pollution and to comply with good chemical status criteria.


The above review of European Union’s legislative setting, regarding groundwater, identified that the only legislation addressing the quantitative status of groundwater bodies is the Water Framework Directive.

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