This website has changed. We hope you can find what you need easily, but items have moved around. If you have trouble finding what you are looking for please let us know.

Contact us

Legal frameworks for the conservation and sustainable management of groundwater ecosystems


Groundwater is the largest and oldest continental habitat and is a vital resource for society. This chapter provides a critical review on the existing legal frameworks for the conservation and sustainable use and management of groundwater ecosystems and its related services. Groundwater is mainly perceived as an essential source for drinking water, irrigation, and use in industry, rather than a living entity with a hidden biodiversity that provides essential functions and processes. In fact, groundwater habitats harbor a vast diversity of microbial and metazoan species, of which some are shared with adjoining surface ecosystems, but the majority is unique to the subsurface aquatic ecosystems. Many groundwater species are rare and endemic, with numerous cryptic and relict species, as well as some classified as “living fossils.” It is estimated that >50% of groundwater biodiversity still awaits discovery. Legal frameworks in place are mainly dedicated to protecting groundwater as a resource but largely ignore biological communities and their important functions, which are crucial for maintaining high-quality groundwater and healthy ecosystems, including those on the surface (e.g., groundwater dependent ecosystems). Protection of groundwater ecosystems is often indirect via the resource approach or because valuable groundwater sources overlap with protected land, as part of national parks and nature world heritage areas. However, there are a few exceptions. A strong focus is on Europe and Australia, but further international and national legal aspects of groundwater ecosystem protection are introduced. Current limitations, challenges, and needs are discussed. Groundwater ecosystems are an essential part of the hydrological cycle and deserve similar attention with respect to survey, assessment, and protection in line with surface aquatic ecosystems. Their low resistance to perturbation and high levels of endemic species in very fragmented habitats warrant even stronger protection efforts.

view journal