Groundwater is a major national resource. In Britain, 20 times more water is stored in underground aquifers than in surface water reservoirs and lakes. Groundwater provides three-quarters of public water supplies in South-East England and 35% of supplies in England as a whole. In Scotland for example, there are around 30,000 private groundwater sources, many supplying individual properties. Groundwater is used to irrigate crops and water livestock, as well as provide drinking water for humans.

Groundwater is an important element in the Water Framework Directive (WFD) 2000/60/EC and its daughter directive on groundwater 2006/118/EC which aimed to achieve the WFD objective of “good” chemical status for groundwater by 2015. The daughter directive introduced, for the first time, quality objectives obliging Member States to monitor and assess groundwater quality on the basis of common criteria and to identify and reverse upward trends in groundwater pollution. This included a requirement to develop measures to control diffuse pollution.

With the exception of pesticides, Member States are able to set their own threshold levels to take account of local conditions, geology, etc.

The quantity of groundwater is protected by abstraction controls, as this topic describes.

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