EEB calls for greater groundwater protection

European environment ministers are being asked to ensure that Europe's groundwater is given the strongest possible protection ahead of the final Environment Council meeting of the Luxembourg Presidency.

Groundwater provides two-thirds of all drinking water in Europe as well as a habitat for essential wildlife.

At the meeting, groundwater is one of the main topics for discussion and Ministers will agree on new legislation to protect groundwater supplies from pollution by fixing common criteria concerning quality standards.

Some outstanding points remain to be decided, however, particularly over nitrate levels.

However, the EEB warns that the draft text being used for discussion would substantially weaken the EU’s 25 year old protection scheme.

“Instead of improving protection of groundwater, some Member States are trying to sanction outgoing pollution. This is a scandal,” said Stefan Scheur, EEB Policy Director.

“Once groundwater is polluted it can take decades or centuries to recover. This causes severe problems, including low quality and expensive drinking water and loss of biodiversity. Environmental organisations expect Ministers to clearly support prevention of chemicals getting into groundwater.”

According to the EEB the draft text adds new exemptions that would further reduce the controls currently provided by the existing Groundwater Directive and the Water Framework Directive.

Specific exemptions for heavy metals, diffuse sources of pollution, or certain activities such as dredging, are unlawful under current EU groundwater protection provisions. The EEB is concerned that they will now be allowed by the new Directive.

The group calls for a clear obligation to prevent the input of all hazardous chemicals into groundwater whatever their source.

“The Council’s draft text represents a clear back-tracking of environmental protection,” Scheur added. “This has nothing to do with simplifying legislation or better governance, but shows a lack of vision and ambition.”

The Environment Council is meeting on June 24th and will also be discussing REACH, ship dismantling, mercury pollution and GM crops.

By David Hopkins

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