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16/09/2021

NI Water To Realise Full Potential Of Groundwater

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NI Water is leading a series of tests into the potential of groundwater sources across the region.

Stored underneath the earth's surface, groundwater is a largely unused water source in Northern Ireland which is naturally filtered through rocks, requiring minimal treatment to make it drinkable.

The utility is using solar panels for abstraction and treatment of the water which will offset electricity usage and activated filter media (recycled glass) to ensure it is treated to drinking standards. Overall, this innovative solution will not only provide water in all weathers but reduces chemical use and carbon.

Explaining more about groundwater in NI, Mark Herron, Project Manager said: "While much of Northern Ireland's water supply is captured on higher ground through reservoirs, a significant proportion is drawn from lower lying loughs and rivers. This water often requires more treatment and pumping which increases emissions from fossil fuel generated electricity. We have also seen several unusually long dry spells and elevated temperatures, which create periods of exceptionally high demand for water. As a result, NI Water has faced increased water supply challenges and has been actively looking for a solution using boreholes.

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"We are lucky that in Northern Ireland we have a special source of water that is largely untapped. Whilst it is limited, it has the potential to help us to supply customers at peak periods and help address climate change by using less energy and lowering our harmful CO2 emissions."

Infrastructure Minister Nichola Mallon has commended NI Water for its innovative approach to explore this natural resource.

The geological formations which contain groundwater in Sherwood Sandstone aquifers are known to provide high quality water and so NI Water has started there.

Mr Herron added: "Sherwood Sandstone is a geological feature highly unusual in Europe. In collaboration with The Geological Survey of Northern Ireland, NI Water is now planning to tap into this source as it strengthens its water supply resilience.

"The Sherwood Sandstone aquifers contain groundwater that has been naturally filtered, providing a high quality, sustainable local water source which only needs minimal treatment before drinking."

Hydrogeologist Paul Wilson of The Geological Survey of Northern Ireland concluded: "Over a period that could be as long as one hundred years, Sherwood Sandstone can act as a great natural filter of water, providing a high quality, sustainable local water source that enables environmental benefits from lowering the use of electricity that can otherwise be required in pumping. 

"Globally and across Europe, there is growing uncertainty over climate change and the sustainability of water resources for both public supply and private industry. Northern Ireland is uniquely placed, having a surplus of groundwater resources that are unlikely to be impacted as negatively by climate change as other climate zones. Importantly, Northern Ireland also has a robust regulatory system, due to the enactment of the EU Water Framework Directive, for ensuring that this valuable resource is not overused or contaminated."

Testing has already begun in Lisburn and Moneymore to assess the potential for groundwater sources and has showed promising signs. NI Water is now looking forward to working with the quality and environmental regulators in the Drinking Water Inspectorate and NIEA to realise the full potential at these locations.

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