Groundwater is the ecosystem Europe has always been able to rely on, and grew to consider an infinite resource. This cross-border investigation reveals that the current state of matters is dire: our water is disappearing and what remains is facing near-irreversible pollution.

PARIS / BRUSSELS / MADRID / BOLOGNA

Europe has long been proud of its clean water; accessible, abundant and drinkable. Most of what we drink, irrigate our gardens and crops with, and use for industrial production, comes from deep underground, from within vast labyrinths of aquifers. This precious groundwater sustains an entire continent, and has helped to turn Europe into one of the most sanitary and prosperous regions in the world. For nearly one hundred years, nations have tapped deeper into the earth to extract water, confident that this infinite resource will forever be replenished by rainfall.

Now our understanding has shifted drastically. Scientists have increasingly warned in recent years that this delicate ecosystem is in crisis. And that climate change and industrial overexploitation have resulted in a dramatic decline in the quality and quantity of underground freshwater in Europe and the world. Under the Surface project delved into official data from European countries to reveal for the first time the extent of the danger we are facing. 14 journalists from seven countries analysed the most up-to-date official EU figures to create an interactive map of the perilous state of Europe’s aquifers. The conclusion is that our water is disappearing and what remains is facing near-irreversible pollution.

This project was supported by the Environmental Investigative Journalism” program of Journalismfund Europe, which provided a grant for the Under the Surface: the untold crisis of European groundwater investigation carried out in several countries, together with other European colleagues (Ana Tudela and Antonio Delgado, Spain; Myrto Boutsi, Greece; Zeynep Sentek, Portugal).

Photo: Po River in North of Italy in 2022. Credit: Guglielmo Mangiapane

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