Flanders groundwater levels dangerously low

Flanders groundwater levels dangerously low
A field following a period of drought. Credit: Belga/ NICOLAS MAETERLINCK

Belgium this year experienced the second-driest spring on record, which has resulted in the already depleted groundwater levels in Flanders falling even lower as summer approaches.

The latest measurements from the Flemish Environment Agency (VMM) showed that 54% of the measurement sites have a low (36%) or very low (18%) groundwater level, 3% more than last year. This is the result of May being drier than normal. Overall, 86% of the monitoring sites had lower groundwater levels.

Meanwhile, 36% have a normal groundwater level and just 10% have a high or very high groundwater level for the time of year. The situation now is still better than during the warm spring of 2020, when the groundwater level was low to very low at 64% of the monitoring sites in the region.

Recent heavy rainfall and floods were insufficient to replenish groundwater levels, as Marijke Huysmans, professor of hydrogeology at the VUB, told The Brussels Times. Indeed, groundwater levels are taking longer to recover after periods of drought.

Creating wetlands

Flanders is continually investing to make the region more resilient to drought and water scarcity, mainly through the Blue Deal which was launched in July 2020.

As part of this initiative, the Flemish government is looking to create additional wetlands, which results in water being retained as much as possible so that it can infiltrate into the soil. "This raises the groundwater level," Flemish Environment minister Zuhal Demir explained.

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Currently, a high-impact wetland investment is ongoing in the Schulensbroek in the Demer valley, which has a water storage capacity of 11 million m³. "These interventions will increase the natural capacity to retain water and will reduce the subsidence of groundwater levels in spring and summer," a statement from Demir read.

"Such investments structurally reinforce the natural water storage capacity and arm us against long-term drought."

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