Saving groundwater: A precious resource

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Groundwater, making the invisible visible involves all aspects of water management. We are all responsible for our natural resources and should act sustainably to safeguard them.

Current situation

World Water Day 2022 focuses on groundwater, to make the invisible visible. Of all the water in the world, less than 0.5% is easily accessible for human consumption. Most of this water is stored in groundwater reservoirs. These groundwater resources are used for a variety of purposes worldwide. In Belgium, for example, about 50% of all the drinking water produced and distributed to households, businesses, and production processes originate from groundwater. On top of that, many industrial businesses have their own groundwater wells to extract water for production. Belgium is one of the most water-scarce regions in the world, ranking 3rd in Europe and 22nd in a list of 150 countries worldwide by the World Resources Institute (WRI).

In order to act and alleviate water scarcity, the Flemish government has set up the Blue Deal. This deal involves 70 concrete actions, amongst which many are linked to industry. A relevant action related to the topic of World Water Day 2022 is the fact that groundwater extraction is more and more prohibited, meaning businesses need to look for other water sources in order to secure their production processes.

BOSAQ and Water Experts have been helping many organizations to limit the use of groundwater while safeguarding water supply and production capacity. This is done by implementing water savings and circular water use and by combining various water sources like surface water, rainwater and most of all wastewater.

Sustainable water management

We are living in a time where everything is possible, it is only a matter of thinking and acting sustainably. When toilet water can be purified back to drinking water and when a complete circular water loop is possible on Antarctica, you know that technologically speaking, there are no more boundaries left.

However, this does not mean we can just implement technology for water treatment and use it to replace groundwater everywhere without thinking. Several factors are important to assess and bear in mind:

  • Every drop of water not used is a drop still in the ground. Every organization should scan their current water use and research viable options to lower their water use. Our experts have examined and implemented many case studies where water consumption has decreased drastically by relatively easy measures. Saving water means saving money, lowering water consumption should be the absolute priority.
  • The economic reality means that we are to assess the economic viability of implementing circular water use, or the use of alternative water sources. Economic savings can be achieved in many ways, especially indirect. As groundwater is a cheap water source, the direct return on investment is not always easy to find. However, if the government prohibits the use of groundwater, or groundwater sources run out, then businesses encounter extreme economic losses by the shutdown of production. On top of that, ecological damage by drying up our reservoirs will also induce economic damages. It is, thus, important to look beyond direct return on investment and also examine indirect gains by preventing future damages.
  • Rainwater as the alternative water source is very variable in availability, especially as climate change involves more frequent and long droughts coupled with more intense rain showers. Large buffer volumes can be needed to optimally capture and reuse rainwater. If we infiltrate all the rainwater that falls on our soil, groundwater reserves would benefit from this and as such, these groundwater reserves can be used sustainably. Use rainwater or infiltrate it to recharge groundwater reserves.
  • Surface water is an option but is also a limited resource. In some places in the world rivers hardly reach the ocean anymore because all the water is taken upstream for use. Also, rivers are shared by different countries, which involves risks. If one country decides to use more water from the rivers, this can endanger the flow to the neighboring country and result in more water scarcity in that region. Use surface water sustainably, ensure sufficient cross-boundary water flows.
  • Desalination is a hot topic, used in many regions as seawater is ubiquitously available. However, desalination requires a lot of energy and, thus, can be expensive. Most regions where it is used are devoid of other alternatives, making desalination the only option left. Countries that don’t border an ocean would become dependent on neighbors. Also, desalination can only be done close to the ocean, meaning large infrastructural works are needed to distribute the water over the entire country. The brine produced by desalination can have devastating effects on the ocean ecosystem, which should be considered and kept to an absolute minimum. Desalination has the potential to solve water challenges but is not the holy grail. Use it as a last resort, focus first on minimizing water consumption and using freshwater sources sustainably.
  • Wastewater is an untapped resource of water (99% water, 1% waste). When water is used, wastewater is produced. There is no discrepancy in supply and demand as they are inherently linked to each other. Treating and reusing wastewater results in a circular loop, needing limited fresh water to supplement the loss of water. One should pay attention to the discharge of the waste concentrate in the environment, ensuring no negative impact on the receiving water body and ensuring sufficient water flows in rivers. Wastewater and circular water use are one of the best measures available to relieve the stress on our freshwater resources.

In general, it is not needed to stop completely the use of groundwater. It is a matter of using it wisely so that the recharge of groundwater is larger than or equal to the use of groundwater. There are many options to minimize the use of groundwater so as not to deplete our reservoirs: minimize water use, combine groundwater with alternative water sources (including use of surface water, rainwater) and reuse wastewater to implement circular loops.

Think and act sustainably

Tom

“Making the invisible visible is a very relevant catchphrase for groundwater. As you have read in this blog article, talking about groundwater means involving all aspects of water management. As simple as water (H2O) is, its management is quite complex. We are all responsible for the livelihood of our planet and can all act sustainably to safeguard our groundwater reserves. Let’s think and act sustainably, now!”

Tom Vandekerckhove

Tom Vandekerckhove

Consulting Director

Tom is responsible for the consultancy department of BOSAQ and will help answer any water-related questions. Together with his team of engineers, they tackle all complex water challenges, deliver quality advice, provide the best possible solution and coordinate the implementations. Commitment, honesty, integrity, respect, teamwork and sustainability are some of the core values that define Tom.

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