Groundwater is an important natural resource for Northern Ireland. NIEA is responsible for the monitoring, protection, regulation and sustainable management of groundwater.

What is groundwater?

Groundwater can be found beneath most parts of Northern Ireland and forms an integral part of its water cycle. It is contained within geological deposits beneath the ground with the water stored in pore spaces between mineral grains and/or within fractures and cracks in the rock itself.

Groundwater is an important natural resource that supports river flows as well as ecological diversity in rivers, lakes and wetlands. It is also available for use as a supply of water through abstraction from boreholes, wells and springs.

Groundwater Leaflet

NIEA have produced a leaflet to raise awareness of groundwater and to help the public understand the role groundwater plays in Northern Ireland, why it’s important to protect it and advice on where to find out more.

Click here to view the groundwater leaflet.

Legislative Framework

The Groundwater Directive (2006/118/EC) (GWDD) is a ‘daughter’ Directive of the Water Framework Directive (2000/60/EC) (WFD) and its purpose is to clarify certain objectives for groundwater quality in WFD. The Directive includes criteria for the assessment of good chemical status and for identifying and reversing upward trends in pollution. It also details measures to prevent or limit pollutants.

The Water (Amendment) (Northern Ireland) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019 ensures that the Water Framework Directive (as transposed) and the various supporting pieces of water legislation continue to operate here after 1 January 2021.

The Groundwater Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2009 transpose the GWDD and have subsequently been amended by the Groundwater (Amendment) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2009,  the Groundwater (Amendment) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2011 (which contain an amendment in respect of the Carbon Capture and Storage Directive 2009/31/EC) and the Groundwater (Amendment) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2014


Groundwater quality and quantity is routinely sampled and tested using a network of boreholes and springs across Northern Ireland. Data collected is used to assess compliance with European legislation such as the Nitrates (91/676/EEC) and Groundwater (2006/118/EC) Directives.

If you have a borehole (or groundwater fed spring) and are interested in becoming part of the groundwater quality network please contact the Land and Groundwater Team at Members of the network can benefit from free water quality sample results.

Data from the groundwater quality network is available through information requests.

Planning Applications and Groundwater

The Department is a statutory consultee in the planning process and provides advice with regard to its areas of competence to assist the Planning Authority make its determination. Some planning applications have the potential to impact groundwater; as such the Groundwater Team within DAERA have developed a number of Planning Guidance Notes to provide advice on the requirements and expectations for specific activities.

Groundwater within River Basin Management

River Basin Management is a key element in implementing the Water Framework Directive (WFD), taking an integrated approach to the protection, improvement and sustainable use of the water environment. Groundwater body classification is an important aspect of River Basin Management.

Groundwater Abstractions

Abstractions from groundwater have the potential to impact the sustainability of the groundwater resource and should be considered when applying for a licence to abstract from groundwater.

Hazardous Substances Standards – Interim Regulatory Position

This Interim Regulatory Position Statement clarifies how the Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA) regulates the input of hazardous substances into groundwater and the standards to be achieved through extant licences/ permits.

This interim statement will remain in place until an update of this regulatory position is published. This update will follow a consultation exercise on the implementation of the UK Technical framework for monitoring, assessing and controlling risks to groundwater.

Related links

Further information

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