The ‘year of groundwater’ is coming to an end – what’s next?

I believe that without doubt we can all agree that 2022 has been an extremely positive year for groundwater for many reasons. This year, UN Water launched a dedicated campaign to raise awareness of groundwater, which is a vital resource providing almost half of all drinking water worldwide. Furthermore, UN Water is hosting the first-ever Summit on Groundwater in Paris on 7-8 December 2022.

Echoing the much-needed focus on this hidden resource, IWA has sought to give more visibility to groundwater throughout the year with dedicated campaigns and initiatives. As part of these efforts, a Groundwater Forum took place at the IWA World Water Congress & Exhibition in Copenhagen in September 2022. The Forum was organised by the Capital Region of Denmark and ATV Soil & Groundwater.

The aim of the Forum was to put the spotlight on groundwater, as sometimes it can be overlooked despite being a precious resource with much hidden potential. In Denmark, 100% of our drinking water comes from groundwater. To us, groundwater is an essential resource, which we work hard to protect. The Groundwater Forum at the Congress provided an excellent opportunity to gather groundwater specialists and authorities to exchange knowledge and present a wider view on the potential of ‘the hidden treasure’.

Around 100 delegates from all over the world participated in the Forum, discussing topics under three headlines, namely: Groundwater Management, Sustainability, and Protection of Groundwater, with nine presenters providing their insights and results from the field. From my point of view, it was extremely fascinating and educating to hear about both the similarities and the differences in managing groundwater in different parts of the world. Even though some of the challenges in Kenya are different to those in the United States, the shared learning will make us more qualified to assure a sustainable use of groundwater in the future, no matter where we are.

All delegates had the opportunity to have their say through the interactive presentation software Mentimeter, which projected real-time results and feedback on the stage screen. Many participants used this chance to give their view on the topics discussed. It was very interesting to see the wide range of reflections from a global  audience throughout the day, highlighting multiple challenges and solutions for groundwater. In my part of the groundwater world – Denmark and the Nordics – I can easily relate to the PFAS issues shared by participants from the United States. But to other delegates the contamination risk from non-existent or poor sanitation is the biggest threat! Both are serious problems calling for collaboration across knowledge fields and countries.

Chair of the IWA Groundwater Management Specialist Group Dr. Stephen Foster has presented the main outcomes and conclusions from the Copenhagen Groundwater Forum and Groundwater Management Workshop in an article on The Source. The article defines a path for IWA to follow from Copenhagen 2022 to Toronto 2024 on groundwater issues. Another useful tool is the Guidebook for Water Utilities & Municipal Authorities on Groundwater Assessment and Management written by Stephen Foster & Radu Gogu.

I highly recommend these readings to those who are interested in keeping the momentum alive as ‘the great year of groundwater’ will soon come to an end. However, our work will not stop here. We hope to use the positive results and international knowledge exchange from the Groundwater Forum in Copenhagen as a way to make groundwater even more visible in the water discussions in the future.

Participants at the Copenhagen Groundwater Forum during the IWA World Water Congress & Exhibition 2022.

Gunver Heidemann

Chief Consultant, Environmental unit at the Capital Region of Denmark