IAH Secretary General Bruce Misstear delivered a keynote address to the meeting of the World Water Quality Alliance on 17th September 2019. The meeting was held at the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre at Ispra, Italy. The World Water Quality Alliance (WWQA) comprises more than 80 partner organisations including the various UN agencies concerned with water, other international water organisations, research institutes, universities, NGOs and scientific associations such as IAH. The Alliance’s activities are coordinated by UN Environment. The aim of the alliance is to carry out a world water quality assessment and to identify solutions for meeting the Sustainable Development Goals. It constitutes a direct implementation action towards the United Nations Environment Assembly, UNEA, Resolution on “addressing water pollution to protect and restore water-related ecosystems” (UNEP/EA.3/Res.10 from 2017).
Bruce’s keynote address was delivered jointly with Claudia Ruz Vargas of the International Groundwater Assessment Centre in the Netherlands (IGRAC). The topic of the keynote address was Global Implications of Groundwater Quality. Even though groundwater provides about half of the world’s drinking water and more than 40% of agricultural water supplies, it is “out of sight, out of mind” and has often been ignored in previous global water quality assessments. The lecture highlighted the range of anthropogenic and naturally-occurring pollutants that can affect our precious resource. Human activities that are leading to increased pressures include urbanisation and intensification of agriculture. As well as traditional pollutants, emerging contaminants such as pharmaceuticals and microplastics were also highlighted. The importance to human health of naturally-occurring contaminants including arsenic, fluoride and radioisotopes was also stressed.
The complex 3-dimensional nature of groundwater flow systems, the long time scales involved and the lack of reliable data on groundwater quality in many regions, pose particular challenges when attempting to assess groundwater quality on a global scale. A number of institutions that are particularly concerned with groundwater quality issues internationally contributed to the development of a draft work plan at the workshop. In addition to IAH and IGRAC, these organisations – which were referred to in the workshop as the “Friends of Groundwater” – included the Federal Institute for Geosciences and Natural Resources (BGR), Germany; the Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology (Eawag); and Umvoto from South Africa. The draft work plan envisages the development of a short white paper addressing global groundwater quality challenges and some further actions which would be dependent on future funding opportunities. It is anticipated that members of the new IAH Commission on Groundwater Quality will be actively involved in the global groundwater quality assessment activities.