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COST action 65


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456 Pages


Hydrogeological aspects of groundwater protection in karstic areas
Environmental research
Environment policy and protection of the environment



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Language English
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ISSN 1018­559C
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Final report
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ICOST I European Commission
COST action 65
Hydrogeological aspects of groundwater protection
in karstic areas
Final report
Science, Research and Development
1995 EUR 16547 EN Published by the
Directorate-General XII
Science, Research and Development
L-2920 Luxembourg
Neither the European Commission nor any person acting
on behalf of the Commission is responsible for the use which might be made of
the following information
Cataloguing data can be found at the end of this publication
Luxembourg: Office for Official Publications of the European Communities, 1995
ISBN 92-827-4682-8
© ECSC-EC-EAEC, Brussels · Luxembourg, 1995
Reproduction Is authorized, except for commercial purposes, provided the source is acknowledged
Printed in Belgium MAIN CONTENTS
PART 2 4
(Working Group Reports and Guidelines) HYDROGEOLOGICAL ASPECTS
During the last twenty years, environmental protection under conditions of sustained
development has become the most crucial question for human survival. The protection of
potable water and thus-water resource in quantity and quality is therefore essential. The karst
aquifers, which we deal with, are of outstanding importance in the water-supply of
Mediterranean countries, but also in many other European countries. The problem is
particularly important where groundwater from large alluvial aquifers becomes ever more
threatened by modern development of these areas.
Karst was first defined by geographers as a landscape, mostly known in carbonate
terrains (limestones and dolomites), where special landforms occurred, such as closed
depressions and underground features (caves, pot holes), and where water does not flow at the
ground surface, but only underground. The eponymous region is Kras or Krs (or Karst in
German) in Slovenia and Croatia, the area located between Postojna, Trieste and Rij eka. It is
now well known that karst phenomena result from chemical solution by surface and
groundwater flows.
Carbonate rocks outcrops cover a large part (35 %) of Europe, approximately 3 millions
km2, of which a large part is karstified. But for some countries, like Germany, France, Poland,
Romania and Russia, karst features may also develop underneath a thick sediment cover,
sometimes several hundred meters below the surface. The map (Fig. 1) gives the distribution
of karst areas in Europe. It already shows that, except Scandinavian countries, karst is widely
represented everywhere. Karst is particularly extensive in Mediterranean regions, not only of
Europe, but also of Middle East and Northern Africa (Maghreb).
In spite of some countries, like Norway and Iceland, where karst water resource does
not contribute to their water supply, karst aquifers should be considered as the main
groundwater resources in Europe (Table 1). All over the world, the main springs are known to
occur in karst areas : Dumanli spring in Taurus Mountains, Turkey (50 m3/s mean discharge),
Fontaine de Vaucluse in southern Alps, France (20 m3/s) or spring Rjecina, Croatia (10 m3/s)
are examples. Many important European cities are partly or totally supplied with drinking
water from karst aquifers : Vienna, Paris, Rome, Montpellier, Neuchatel, Rijeka, Innsbruck. percent of percent of
Country total area carbonate outcrops groundwater karst water
km2 km2 (%) in total water in total water
supply supply
Albania 28,748 4,300 appr. (15)
Austria 83,856 19,900 (23.7) 98 50
Belgium 30,513 4,400 (14) 90 31 (46)
Belorussia 207,600 115,400 (55.6)
Bulgaria 110,912 25,000 (22.5)
Croatia 56,538 22,600 (40) 90 36
Czekia 78,970 8,000 appr. (10
Denmark 43,070 6,500 appr. (15) 35
Estonia 45,100 30,000 (67) 80 16
337,030 3,500 appr. (1Finland
France 547,026 180,000 (33) 45 25
Germany 356,910 23,000 (6.570 6.3
Greece 131,944 60,000 (45)
Hungary 93,030 1,350 (1.4510 2.8
102,845 0 (0) Iceland
Ireland 70,282 32,000 (4525 5
Italy 301,230 43,000 (14.2) ? 23 of g.w.
Lettonia 64,589 55,700 (87.4)
Latvia 65,200 52,000 (80)
Luxemburg 2,586 30 appr.(90
Malta 320 300)
Moldavia 33,700 30,300 (89.9)
Netherlands 41,500 50appr.(0.1)
Norway 324,219 4,800 (1.5)
Poland 312,680 30,800 (9.8) 14.3 4.0
Portugal 92,082 2,100 (2.3) 60.0 10.0
Romania 237,499 13.0 2.0 4,400 (1.8)
Russia (Europe) 3,956,000 1,400,000 (75)
Serbia, Bosnia, 179,000 27,000 (15
Slovakia 48,900 3,082 (6.3) 85.0 27.0
90.0 50.0 Slovenia 20,251 8,780 (43)
12.5 Spain 504,750 112,650 (22.3) 25.0
Sweden 449,964 3,000 (0.7)
Switzerland 41,290 8,000 (20) 80.0 15.0
1.5 Turkey 780,776 260,000 (33) 6.0
Ukraine 603,700 373,800 62.5)
United Kingdom 244,820 32,900 (22) 30.0 20.0
TOTAL 10,606,782 3,050,000 appr.(29)
Table 1. Extension of karst areas in European countries and part of groundwater and,
respectively, karst groundwater for their water supply. In most cases, despite the generally high quality of groundwater, karst aquifers are only
partly exploited. Karst springs arey used only at their lowest discharge, without any
seasonal over-exploitation, according to a traditional economy of "gathering". Everywhere,
surface waters and other groundwaters have been preferred to karst water resource, because
karst aquifers are traditionally considered as particularly sensitive to pollution ande
they appear as complicated and unpredictable aquifers. However, in our opinion karst
groundwater is a valuable resource and an excellent alternative to other water resource.
Karst aquifers often occur in mainly rural areas where the present water quality as well
as natural conditions can ensure the maintenance of such water quality in the future. What is
why interest of European countries has recently been directed towards supply from karst
The presence of underground conduits, through which flow a huge quantity of water,
and the hydraulic link between the surface and the underground path flows are the main
specific characteristics responsible for the high sensitivity (or vulnerability) of karst aquifers
to pollution and overexploitation.
The hydraulic behaviour of these areas is very complex due to the heterogeneity of their
aquifers and can be understood and interpreted only through scientific hydrogeologicai
investigations. Therefore, a high degree of knowledge of the hydrogeological conditions of
karst aquifers is a basic prerequisite for any action related to their consideration as a resource,
particularly where its protection is concerned.
Numerous hydrogeological research projects have been carried out in European areas in
order to use and/or to protect groundwater. However, according to the hydrogeological
literature, approaches taken to these explorations, as well as the protection regulations of
aquifers, differ from country to country. Being aware of this fact, the scientists of those
European countries, where karst aquifers contribute largely to the total potable water
resources, have associated themselves to try to solve this problem. This "association" has been
fully supported by the Commission of the European Union, through its DG XII programme -
Cooperation in Science and Technology (COST Actions). Within the COST Action 65 "
Hydrogeological aspects of groundwater protection in karstic areas" lasting five years
through individual and joint research work, we tried first, to estimate the present degree of
knowledge of karst aquifers, and second, to improve the approaches to research projects
aimed at the protection of such valuable water resources for the present and future water-use
of numerous European countries. This work enabled a wide exchange of scientific and
technological experience between numerous karst scientists from 16 European countries
where karst is widespread. The different approaches to the problems considered were
compared in order to obtain an overview of their methods and to optimise criteria for karst
aquifer protection. Moreover, a network of scientific institutions and experienced scientists
has been established in close direct contact or via DG XII (COST Secretariat). These are links
which can react rapidly to incidents or other relevant matter associated with groundwater
protection in karstic areas in their or foreign countries.
This research project was planned and managed through the organisation of one or more
research pilot areas in each participating country, but only if fundamental prerequisites had
been fulfilled : that the local hydrogeological conditions were known and that the research
was multi disciplinary.
- 5 Figure 1.- Map of carbonate rock outcrops in Europe. Karst features develop in most of them.