The Water Resources Expert Group provides expertise in groundwater protection and management for decision-making on water resources at national and European levels.
The Water Resources Expert Group (WREG)
Groundwater, present almost everywhere beneath our feet, is by far (99%) the largest freshwater resource on earth. As rain falls, groundwater recharges and continuously feeds rivers, lakes, wetlands and coastal waters. Through this process, water solutes, pollutants and particles are continuously transferred from the surface, through the soil, into the deeper subsurface layers that ultimately discharge to surface waters or are abstracted from water supply and irrigation wells. Water migrates through sediment and rock pore spaces, rock fractures, faults in aquifers, and even underground caverns (karst aquifers)potentially polluting valuable groundwater resources and groundwater dependent or associated ecosystems. The WREG focuses on the subsurface part of the water cycle; water in the unsaturated (incl. soil) and saturated (groundwater) zone, and conjunctive use of groundwater and surface water.
The subsurface water cycle encompasses more than just water resources. Terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems, both freshwater and marine, as well as human activities, rely on and interact with groundwater. The flow needs to be of good quantitative and chemical status to ensure sustainable development of all groundwater dependent ecosystems, as well as other services and benefits to society such as drinking water and food production, mining, geoenergy production and manufacturing, or to support living conditions and human health.
However, human activities can negatively impact water quantity and quality. The application of fertilisers and pesticides in agriculture, or leaks from industry and households, can contaminate groundwater. In addition, overuse can create water shortages, land subsidence and reduced flow in rivers. There is therefore a need for protection and management through an integrated approach to deal with these challenges in a coherent way.
The impact of climate change requires adaptation and adjustment measures in how we manage our groundwater resources. We need to understand these changes to sustainably manage water resources and the related risks.
The WREG focuses on how climate and global changes (e.g. population dynamics and land use changes) impact on groundwater resources. Specifically, the WREG develops monitoring and modelling methodologies to understand, evaluate, and predict climate and land use change impacts on groundwater resources, interconnected surface waters, and ecosystems in order to define a climate-robust set of adaptation measures. These measures work towards creating a resilient society, for example by promoting the use of nature-based solutions to increase climate resilience in a cost effective way, while reaping the benefits of a green environment and improved public health. The WREG also continues to work on synergistic approaches and tools to meet societal changes and climate change adaptation (e.g. a nexus approach with energy – carbon capture and storage, and heat storage, or even a broader Water – Ecosystems – Food – Energy – Raw materials – Health nexus).
By providing scientific expertise on subsurface water resources, knowledge, influence of climate change on groundwater, and the exchanges between subsurface water with its environment, the WREG aspires to be the leading expert and data provider of FAIR access on subsurface water resources in Europe via the EGS spatial information platform, EGDI.
The WREG recently completed four GeoERA groundwater projects: HOVER, on groundwater quality; RESOURCE, tackling groundwater availability; TACTIC, focusing on climate change impact; and VoGERA, providing more than 200 digital map views of European groundwater quantity and quality issues on EGDI map viewers. This work will be continued within the groundwater part of the GSEU project for a geological service for Europe.
Through participation in other European and national research and innovation projects and national public policy support expertise, we support and advise the Directorate General for Environment on technical and policy-related issues, whilst identifying knowledge gaps for the EU Research Agenda, and sharing expertise of EU Member States’ Geological Surveys in implementing the Water Framework Directive and its daughter directives (e.g. groundwater, floods, …). This is done through common meetings and our active involvement in the “Working Group Groundwater” of the Common Implementation Strategy (CIS) for the Water Framework Directive. The WREG is also involved in the new UNECE Expert Group on Resource Management – Groundwater Resources Working Group that was initiated in 2019.