European Commission: Groundwater

Groundwater as a resource: groundwater constitutes the largest reservoir of freshwater in the world, accounting for over 97% of all freshwaters available on earth (excluding glaciers and ice caps). The remaining 3% is composed mainly of surface water (lakes, rivers, wetlands) and soil moisture.

Until recently, focus on groundwater mainly concerned its use as drinking water (e.g. about 75% of EU inhabitants depend on groundwater for their water supply). Groundwater is also an important resource for industry (e.g. cooling waters) and agriculture (irrigation). It has, however, become increasingly obvious that groundwater should not only be viewed as a drinking water reservoir, but also protected for its environmental value. In this respect, groundwater represents an important link of the hydrological cycle through the maintenance of wetlands and river flows, acting as a buffer through dry periods. In other words, it provides the base flow (i.e. the water which feeds rivers all year round) for surface water systems, many of which are used for water supply and recreation. In many rivers indeed, more than 50% of the annual flow is derived from groundwater. In low-flow periods in summer, more than 90% of the flow in some rivers may come from groundwater. […]

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