Groundwater (GW) is a major source of water supply in Europe. This important natural resource is endangered by several factors, such as overexploitation and improper water management policies, as well as contamination by anthropogenic activities. Ignoring the profound consequences of GW depletion and quality deterioration is the foundation on which unsustainable water policies are built. The goal of this project is to develop new management strategies to sustainably exploit two common GW resources: pumping wells used to obtain water for drinking purposes, and natural springs employed for crop irrigation. We will ground the development of our techniques on observations associated with two currently monitored field sites located in Italy. These sites are archetypal of two distinct realities and can be considered representative of diverse environmental settings and conditions of Europe-wide interest. As such, key features of our approach and techniques are resilience and adaptability, so that the approach can be readily adapted and employed in other European aquifer systems. We will thus (i) build conceptual models to describe interactions between ground- and surface -waters, usually evaluated at very different spatial and temporal scales within a given water basin; (ii) characterize the fate of emerging contaminants (ECs) such as pharmaceuticals, personal care products and engineered nanomaterials, as well as agricultural and industrial chemicals, in aquifers and the way they may threaten the quality of GW; and (iii) quantify the effect of multiple sources of uncertainty on sustainable management and protection of the groundwater systems, here including hydrogeological settings, aquifer architecture, well abstraction rates, sources of contamination, anthropogenic actions, EC loads, natural attenuation processes, and spatial and temporal distribution of redox conditions, and with reference to ecotoxicological concerns. Because geological media are heterogeneous and exhibit spatial variations on a multiplicity of scales, prediction of subsurface flow and transport, and their interactions with surface processes, are formidable challenges. These tasks can only be rigorously tackled within a probabilistic framework. We therefore adopt a Probabilistic Risk Assessment (PRA) approach, accounting for the combination of natural, and social sciences. Risk analysis should be based on assessing exposure of a given organism to concentrations of ECs, combined with ecotoxicological studies, as well as consideration of social implications or services provided by affected organisms. Ecotoxicity tools (bioassays) will allow quantitative assessment of potential deleterious effects of the ECs that may be present. The key output of the research will be a decision-making tool for the sustainable use of water for civil, agricultural and industrial activities and ecosystem and historical heritage preservation, accounting for (existing and/or potential) health hazards or those that may affect ecosystems.
Plan Estatal de Investigación Científica y Técnica y de Innovación 2013-2016
Programa Estatal de Investigación, Desarrollo e Innovación Orientada a los Retos de la Sociedad