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Environmental Problem

      Groundwater constitutes one of the main resources of freshwater on our planet, providing useful functions and services to humans and the environment. In many European countries, this resource is increasingly being polluted with nitrate due to anthropogenic activities such as the excessive use of fertilizers in crops, livestock, sewage waste and septic tanks.

The presence of nitrate limits groundwater potential use and damages its role in the hydrological cycle. It must be noticed that in many parts of Europe groundwater is not suitable for drinking only due to the presence of this contaminant and that groundwater is often used untreated particularly from private wells that can cause serious health problems. Therefore, the World Health Organization (WHO) has set the standard for nitrate in drinking water at 50 mg NO3-/L. On the other hand and from the ecological point of view, nitrate can lead to eutrophication of surface and coastal waters.

In 2004 it was estimated that nitrate drinking water limit values were exceeded in around one-third of the groundwater bodies in EU. In fact, in Catalonia (north-east of Spain) there exist a number of drinking water wells with nitrate concentration above 50 mg/L since 32% of the water bodies have severe nitrate affectation and more than 45% of the monitoring wells show nitrate concentrations above 35 mg/L. In 2005, 92 municipalities (10% of total Catalan municipalities) had water supply problems due to nitrate contamination. In general terms, some of the contaminated wells are still being exploited because other nitrate-free water sources like surface waters are available in the vicinities for blending. However, some of the wells are finally abandoned if nitrate levels are too high and thus, water from far away sources must be exploited. This leads to an overexploitation of surface waters that causes water scarcity downstream and environmental problems in the river basins.

The Life+ InSiTrate Project aims to contribute to solve the problem of drinking water supply to municipalities and small communities by implementing in situ remediation technologies and therefore prevent surface water overexploitation. The restoration of contaminated wells will benefit the economic development of the municipalities, by making available their closest freshwater sources and avoiding the costly transport of freshwater from other sources.