The European Union under the Water Framework Directive (WFD) requires its Member States to provide information about the status of their water bodies every six years. These reports outline not only the status of the monitored fresh- and groundwater bodies in the EU, but also the impacts that have contributed to this status (i.e. excessive water abstraction leading to the poor quantitative status of groundwater or the exceedances of pollutants leading to a poor chemical status) and specific pressures causing those impacts (i.e. agriculture, industry, etc). According to the WFD, all water bodies must achieve good status by 2027, except for specific exemptions.

The “Under the Surface” investigation is based on the official data the Member States provided to the European Environmental Agency (EEA). Our interactive map, as well as the static maps featured in text, show the initial snapshot of the groundwater status from the third cycle of hydrological planning. 

Key principles to keep in mind when interpreting the maps:

  1. Since the maps are based on the official data provided by the Member States they are only as good as the national reporting is. We have highlighted some of the key monitoring concerns expressed by the experts we talked to in our piece (No measurement, no problem section). Some of our media partners have managed to obtain additional data at the national level. 
  2. The methods that the Member States have used to collect data may vary. This means that their results often cannot be directly compared. Please bear this in mind when comparing the Member States’ statuses, of when comparing the statuses between different reporting cycles. 
  3. The groundwater bodies are shown as in poor status (red on the map) if they are in poor quantitive status (water levels), poor qualitative status (one of the monitor pollutants exceeding the legal thresholds), or both at the same time. On the interactive map,  you will see the reason for the waterbody’s poor status when you click on the map. When it comes to the poor qualitative status, the map also shows the substance(s) causing it (read more about the terminology below).
  4. The groundwater bodies are listed as in ‘good status’ if both their chemical and quantitative status are ‘good’.
  5. The map doesn’t show the trends in water quality or quantity. Theoretically, a body of water could have improved in terms of water quality or quantity since the last monitoring cycle, and still appear red on the map. This means that the legally established thresholds were exceeded (50 mg/L for nitrates and 0,1 μg/l for active substances in pesticides and their relevant metabolites; or 0,5 μg/l for the total sum of all individual pesticides/metabolites detected and  quantified).
  6. Please keep in mind that the map of groundwater doesn’t show the quality of water coming out of our taps. In Europe, we generally don’t drink raw water. However, since in the EU the groundwater accounts for 65% of urban water supply (and 25% of water for irrigation in agriculture), there is a direct correlation between groundwater and drinking water. The poor chemical status of groundwater can mean that this water will need to be treated before it reaches our homes or that a specific catchment is not safe for public consumption.
  7. The interactive data will be updated as new public data becomes available.

This map shows the most up-to-date information on the issues plaguing our groundwater. Based on the same data the European authorities demand the countries to make improvements in water protection for the water bodies in poor status. The red swaths of the map – water bodies in poor status – indicate the areas where the Member States will need to implement corrective measures to reverse the situation, in order to achieve “good status”. This means that the national authorities will need to reduce the pressures that put the water bodies at risk. This could mean adopting measures that limit the use of pesticides or fertilisers in agriculture in a designated area or limiting water extraction (industry) or irrigation (agriculture).


According to the objectives set out in the Framework Directive, groundwater must be identified in two aspects in order to achieve good status: good quantitative status (or the water body’s capacity to recover its levels throughout the water cycle); and good qualitative or chemical status (not exceeding certain levels of chemical elements present, including saline intrusion, which renders the water non-potable). If one of the substances is found in exceedance, the water body will automatically be in poor status.  

A water body is only considered in poor condition if this has been caused by anthropogenic reasons – human action – either through extraction pace exceeding the recovery capacity of the water levels; or through activities that cause pollution. If a water body is in poor quantitative or chemical conditions (or both!), the water body is considered to be in poor general condition.


The main impacts associated with the poor condition of a groundwater body are primarily excessive extractions affecting the water table of the mass, impacting its quantitative status (identified with the letter L on the map). Regarding qualitative or chemical status, the impacts may be: Nutrient pollution, mainly nitrates from agricultural fertilizers and animal excrement reaching a level above or near 50mg/l (N); Pollution by chemicals other than nutrients, primarily pesticides and herbicides but also metals, hydrocarbons, etc. (C); microbiological contamination (M); and organic contamination (O). Only a limited number of substances are monitored EU-wide. The list of pollutants of concern (and their environmental standards)  is defined in Annex I to the Groundwater Directive, which complements the WFD, and should be reviewed every 6 years. The Member States are required to set threshold values for substances of national concern, including, where relevant, those listed in Annex II of the Groundwater Directive. Additionally, the poor condition of a groundwater body that affects the chemical or quantitative quality of a connected surface water body (Q) or a terrestrial ecosystem depending on that groundwater body (E) are identified as impacts.

Data collection and methodology issues

This interactive map (including the status of the water bodies and the impacts that caused it) shows the situation of the groundwater bodies declared by the Member States to the European Commission after the preliminary work for the Third Water Cycle Plans (2022-2027).

The information was obtained from the structured data that the member countries are obliged to report to the European Environment Agency. These data include XML format files and spatial data in vector format for each of the groundwater bodies, with their declared state and impacts (among other variables). An XML parser was used to extract, transform, and load (ETL processes) the essential data from each water body, and this information was unified with the latest available special data (geometry of each groundwater body).

In some areas, there may be multilayer aquifers, meaning there are several overlapping groundwater bodies at different depths and of different typologies (for example, an unconfined upper aquifer and another confined one beneath it). The order provided by the attribute table of the spatial data has been respected in our visualisations.

The Member States have not standardized their control networks and measurement methodologies, both in terms of the density of control points and the quality of the data provided. The countries have also shown deficiencies even in meeting the reporting deadlines. 

The European Commission has urged countries to improve the monitoring information both at the control points (piezometers and quality meters); and at the flow meters of the extraction wells (to know the actual volume of water extracted). The EC also urged the countries to increase the number of monitored water masses, reducing the extension of each of them to facilitate the study of their evolution. This would make it more difficult to delay the declaration of a water body in poor condition when it is only partially deteriorated.

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