How we can all help protect groundwater in Wales

What is groundwater?

Groundwater is the water stored in soil and rocks underground that are known as aquifers.  It is a critical and often forgotten part of the water cycle. Groundwater is a vital resource, sustaining our springs, rivers, and wetlands, providing habitats for lots of species.

It can be abstracted for drinking water or for use by industry and farms by using boreholes with pumps. Groundwater currently supplies about 5% of the public water supply in Wales but in rural areas, groundwater may be the only viable water source for isolated properties.

We’re seeing an increased use of groundwater heat pumps which recover the heat stored naturally in groundwater to heat homes and businesses.  These systems can make an important contribution as we try and reduce our reliance on fossil fuels for heating.

What can you do to help protect groundwater?

There are simple steps we can all take to conserve groundwater and protect it from pollution.

  • If you have a heating oil tank, make sure you check it for signs of leaks
  • Make sure your sewage treatment system is being maintained and is registered with us
  • Store and dispose of chemicals properly, don’t pour them onto the ground or into drains
  • Make sure you use water efficiently around the house and garden
  • Tell us about any pollution incidents or suspected illegal abstractions you see

Risks to groundwater

Groundwater is vulnerable to pollution, and once polluted it can be difficult and expensive to clean up. We aim to prevent damage to groundwater in the first place rather than having to restore it later. In Wales the most common pollution risks to groundwater we face include:

  • Agricultural activities such as inappropriate spreading of material to land and slurry spills
  • Leaks from domestic heating oil tanks
  • Poorly operating sewage treatments systems

Groundwater also risks being over-used in many areas, where more water is abstracted from aquifers than is recharged by rain.  We use our abstraction licensing policies to manage abstraction in Wales to prevent this from happening.

Climate change will affect groundwater in Wales.  We’re expecting more intense periods of rainfall, concentrated over a smaller period during the year. This means some of our aquifers won’t be able to fill up as well as they do now, and we are likely to see an increase in groundwater supplies such as springs drying up.

How we protect groundwater in Wales

Natural Resources Wales have adopted the Environment Agency’s approach to protecting groundwater available on Gov.UK. This sets out:

  • our aims and objectives for groundwater
  • our approach to its management and protection
  • our position and approach to the application of relevant legislation
  • the tools we use to do our work
  • technical guidance for groundwater specialists

These pages, and the position statements they contain, will be of interest to developers, planners, environmental permit applicants and holders, abstractors, operators, and anyone whose current or proposed activities have an impact on, or are affected by groundwater.

Our staff use these position statements as a framework to make decisions on the planning and environmental permitting applications we receive.

The primary aim of the position statements is the prevention of pollution of groundwater and protection of it as a resource. Groundwater protection is long term, so these principles and position statements aim to protect and enhance this valuable resource for future generations.

How do we monitor groundwater in Wales?

We maintain a network of sites across Wales where we monitor the quality and level of groundwater.

Our groundwater quality data shows us the current state of groundwater in Wales and lets us see where it may be being polluted by surrounding land uses. We also use it to look for new types of contaminants

Our groundwater level data helps to tell us how much water is available in our aquifers and allows us to understand where a change in climate or abstraction patterns may be having an effect.

If you’d like access to this data, you can contact us to request it.

Contact us for more information on groundwater

For more advice from us on how to manage risks to groundwater from your activities please visit our discretionary advice service pages below. They set out the service we offer and how much we’ll charge for this advice. 

Development planning advice

Abstraction licensing advice

Environmental Permitting advice

To access any of the data, maps or reports we hold on groundwater in Wales please visit our Access our data, maps and reports page.

To report a pollution incident visit our ‘report an incident’ page.

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