Groundwater quality

Groundwater is an important resource. Its contamination is potentially dangerous to human health, can damage aquatic plant and animal life, and is difficult and expensive to remedy. For this reason there are European and national controls to protect groundwater, as well as guidance and codes to explain the controls to those affected by them.

The Groundwater Directive 80/68/EEC is the main European legislation. This is planned to be repealed by the new Groundwater Directive 2006/118/EC, pursuant to Article 17 of the Water Framework Directive 2000/60/EC.

Consultation on transposition of the new Groundwater Directive

The new Directive will operate alongside 1980 Groundwater Directive until December 2013. The two Groundwater Directives adopt similar approaches to preventing goundwater pollution  but there will need to be adjustments to the existing regime to accommodate the changes brought about by both the WFD and the new Directive. These adjustments are explained in further detail in the consultation documents regarding transposition of the new Directive into UK law which started on 9 May 2008 and will close after 12 weeks.

In the UK the main legislation implementing the 1980 Directive is the Water Resources Act 1991 and the Groundwater Regulations 1998. The Regulations came into force on 1 April 2000. They effectively extend existing controls, contained in the Water Resources Act 1991, over the discharge of polluting matter to controlled waters (including groundwater). They require that disposal, or tipping for the purposes of disposal, to land of certain listed substances may be carried out only if prior authorisation has been given by the Environment Agency. Under the Regulations the Environment Agency has powers to issue notices to control activities other than disposal, where these are likely to result in an indirect discharge of a listed substance to groundwater. There is a prohibition on the entry of List I substances into groundwater.

Guidance and codes

After consultation in November 1999, the Government has produced guidance, explaining the provisions of the Regulations and, where possible, how they will be implemented. The Government is also producing a series of codes, under Regulation 21 of the Groundwater Regulations, aimed at activities and sectors with the potential to pollute groundwater.

Further information


Page last modified 28 May 2008
Page published 29 August 2001