The Environment Agency (EA) is the statutory body in England responsible for, amongst other things, regulating waste from industry, managing water abstraction, treatment of contaminated land, managing the risk of flooding and protecting and improving water, land and biodiversity. Many of these functions relate to the Water Framework Directive which was designed to protect all waters including rivers, lakes, estuaries, coastal waters and groundwater and their dependent wildlife/habitats under one piece of environmental legislation.
Understanding how water flows within the groundwater system is crucial to managing potential environmental risks from pollutants entering these systems. Open access to geological data from the NGDC, such as borehole records, enable EA staff to develop a conceptual understanding of how water flows in the subsurface environment, enabling them to better mitigate and regulate against some of these risks. These data are also used to develop 3D models of the subsurface environment where more detailed understanding is required. These geological models are used within the EA’s numerical model which is a tool that helps to protect groundwater and surface water resources on a regional scale.
"A good conceptual model of the geology is crucial to understanding if sites could be affected by contaminants through groundwater flow. Having access to the NGDC borehole records saves us time. It also ensures that the quality of our conceptual models is as good as possible since they take account of borehole records that were collected by several organisations, not just our own" says Jennifer Lear (EA Geologist, Groundwater and Contaminated Land Team, Rotherham)
Pollution incidents are reported to the EA every day. EA geologists use NGDC borehole records to obtain a preliminary, desk-based conceptual understanding of the pollution site and the potential risk to the groundwater system, which enables them to prioritise their response to such incidents. Without access to this data, the geological aspect of this prioritisation would be more challenging and likely require a site investigation before a decision could be made, thus costing time and resource.