Good and healthy groundwater, now and in the future

Published: 7 December 2022

In the current Dutch government policy, water and subsurface are guiding the decisions on spatial planning. That certainly includes groundwater.

In densely populated areas such as the Netherlands, more and more claims are being made on the subsurface. They involve drinking water supply, housing, the energy transition, nitrogen emissions, sustainable agriculture and the protection of nature areas. As a result the groundwater system and the ecosystems that depend on it are under increasing pressure, and climate change is amplifying that pressure. In addition, two-thirds of the drinking water in the Netherlands is currently produced from groundwater.

We are conducting two major studies for the Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management to establish a national picture of bottlenecks and opportunities relating to groundwater. Both projects get stakeholders involved to share knowledge or provide feedback about the results.

Protecting national groundwater reserves for later

Working with fellow research organisation TNO, we are mapping out deep, clean, fresh and brackish groundwater reserves in the Netherlands. This natural capital could be used in the future if there are large-scale crises lasting a number of years or for the structural drinking water supply. Or for a purpose decided on by future generations. Which underground areas will be earmarked? And how will they be protected? These questions will be addressed in 2023.

Good-quality groundwater stocks

Groundwater levels in the Netherlands have declined due to progressive intensification of water and land use since the start of the 20th century, causing damage to nature and agriculture as well as soil subsidence. In addition, the chemical quality of the groundwater is deteriorating as a result of contaminating activities above and in the subsurface. This process is referred to as ‘greying of groundwater’.

With policymakers, fellow knowledge institutes and other stakeholders, we are working on an integrated groundwater study. This study will establish a national picture of the quality of our groundwater, as well as the stocks, areas requiring attention and solutions for various functions (such as nature, urban area, soil energy, agriculture).  After a national picture has been established in the first quarter of 2023, we will look specifically at the implications for the energy transition (such as geothermal energy). The national pictures will be worked up in several meetings with stakeholders, groundwater experts and landscape architects. In this way, current themes will be included and the coordination with a range of ongoing projects and programmes will be safeguarded.

With these Dutch projects, we also contribute to this UN Groundwater Year