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What causes groundwater pollution?

What causes groundwater pollution?

Groundwater quality can be impacted by localised pollution sources or regional pollution sources.  Unconfined aquifers close to the surface are more susceptible to pollution than deep confined aquifers. The quality of groundwater can also be impacted by natural processes.

Point source pollution (localised)

Point source pollution refers to a single identifiable source of local pollution that may be very concentrated. This can be caused by old landfill sites, service stations, industrial and intensive agricultural sites, and hazardous materials or waste storage areas. 

Example of point source pollution

Diagram showing how uncontained pollution can leak through the ground to an aquifer.

This diagram shows an example of point source pollution. Diagram: ©Spatial Vision Innovations Pty Ltd (2015)

Diffuse pollution (regional)

Diffuse pollution refers to regional pollution that occurs over a wide area and cannot be easily attributed to a single source. This can occur when many small pollution sources combine and collectively have a significant impact on groundwater quality in an area. Examples of this are septic tanks, agricultural chemicals and sea water intrusion.

Example of diffuse pollution

Diagram showing an example of diffuse pollution that cannot be attributed to a single source. In this example pollution is shown to be possibly coming from an unsewered settlement or pesticides and fertilisers.

This diagram shows an example of diffuse pollution. Diagram: ©Spatial Vision Innovations Pty Ltd (2015)

Which authorities are responsible for protecting groundwater quality?

The Environment Protection Authority is responsible for developing standards and enforcing regulations to protect groundwater quality. The main policy guiding the protection of groundwater quality and the potential beneficial uses of groundwater is the State Environment Protection Policy - Groundwaters of Victoria (SEPP GoV). Several authorities including Southern Rural Water are responsible for upholding the SEPP GoV.

Learn more about how groundwater is managed. 

Page last updated28th April 2015
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