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IWW’s multi-criteria approach in assessing risks to groundwater quality

The IWW Water Centre plays a crucial role in the UPWATER project. With expertise on groundwater analysis, risk assessment, monitoring and mitigation solutions, IWW contributes to the main objective of the project: reducing groundwater contamination and ensuring a sustainable water future. IWW endeavours to offer decision support through the development of a framework. For this, they employ a multi-criteria approach that takes into account technical, economic, and ecological factors, offering a broad perspective on the necessary steps to mitigate groundwater pollution.

The IWW Water Centre is one of Germany’s leading research institutes with the focus on water. IWW is concerned with the entire drinking water supply, from water resource management to distribution to the customer. In addition, chemical and microbiological analyses are carried out in the laboratory. In the UPWATER project, IWW is responsible for defining the approach for the environmental risk and impact assessment in cooperation with other project partners.

IWW’s Assessment Framework

To provide decision support, IWW and other project partners will develop an Assessment Framework. The framework will be useful determining the different phases of the risk assessment and impact assessment/risk control and describe their objectives, methodology and results. The methodology of risk assessment is used to answer the question which pollutants are of concern, and which ones can affect the groundwater quality in which way. Further, the impact assessment is used to select suitable measures to prevent, monitor and mitigate pollutants.

Environmental risk assessment

The first step of the environmental risk assessment focuses on the identification, assessment, and quantification of pollutants in the groundwater (and soil). For this, IWW works together with project partners to set up the described framework to investigate the likelihood of the occurrence of pollutants in the groundwater and the effects on groundwater quality. In other words, what pollutants do we find, how do they get into the groundwater and which ones pose the greatest threat to groundwater quality. The report on the environmental risk assessment provides us with a list, a ranking of pollutants according to their negative effect on groundwater quality.

“Validating the steps of risk assessment in our three case studies provides us with a broader view,” says Martin Offermann from IWW. “The case studies will inform us about the issues at the various sites and provide data on the monitoring measures they employ. Additionally, they will shed light on the working and effectiveness of their mitigation measures.”

Impact assessment

The risk assessment results in a prioritised list of relevant pollutants. When discussing risk control strategies, the central question revolves around determining which measures are best suited for preventing, monitoring, and mitigating pollutants, while considering their positive impact on groundwater quality. Therefore, the impact assessment looks at what positive effects the implementation of a measure has on groundwater quality. Different criteria are to be defined to assess different measures. Data on the different measures are generated from the case studies.

A multi-criteria approach

When developing the Assessment Framework, IWW does not only focus on the technical aspects. “We use a multi-criteria approach,” Offermann says. “We combine technical, economic and ecological dimensions, to create a broad perspective on the effectiveness of measures. This approach ensures that UPWATER can make informed decisions about addressing groundwater contamination and enhancing groundwater quality.” This is important because in real life not the technically best solutions with the best effects on groundwater quality are always implemented. All views of relevant stakeholders have to be considered to ensure a high acceptance of the proposed solutions.

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