2. summary description of groundwater monitoring activities in each country + Austria

2. Summary Description of Groundwater (Quality and Quantity) Monitoring Activities in Each Country

2.1. Austria


2.1.1. Characteristics of Groundwater

The Austrian groundwater areas cover nearly one third of the national territory. Groundwater in karst areas with 15,000 km² extension (18% of national territory) and groundwater in porous media with 10,000 km² (12% of national territory) form the most important groundwater resources of Austria. In addition there is single productive crevice groundwater in the Central Alps, Bohemian Chain and in the borderland of the alpine region and some larger areas with artesian and deep groundwater in Upper and Lower Austria, Burgenland, Styria and in alpine valleys.

Austria offers rich potential water resources that are composed of precipitation (100,000 mio. m³/year) and inflow from neighbouring countries (30,000 mio. m³/year). Yearly evapo-transpiration is about 45,000 mio. m³. Most of the water is consumed by industry (1,700 mio m³/year), by households (700 mio. m³/year) and by agriculture (200 mio. m³/year). Nearly 100 percent of the water consumption is taken from groundwater which is a quite unique position in Europe (only comparable with Denmark with 99%).

 2.1.2. Structure of the Administrative Organisations Concerning Groundwater Quality

The Austrian Act on Hydrography (Federal Law Gazette No. 58/1979), later on amended in the Act on Water Law, provides the financial and legal basis for the country wide groundwater quality monitoring system. More details of the monitoring programme are laid down in the Ordinance on Water Quality Monitoring (Wassergüte-Erhebungsverordnung/Federal Law Gazette No. 338/91). Furthermore, monitoring is also done in assessment of compliance with EC legislation - Nitrate Directive 91/676/EEC. The groundwater quality monitoring is run by the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry in close co-operation with the Federal Environment Agency (both responsible for the standardisation of the whole programme, electronic data storage, evaluation of results, information for decision makers and the general public) and the nine provincial authorities (current realisation of the monitoring programme). The data are evaluated continuously.

The main objectives for the groundwater quality monitoring programme are:

  • up to date information on groundwater quality
  • quick identification of changes in the water quality
  • detection of main areas of water pollution
  • supervision of remediation measures
  • collection of basic data for legalistic regulations e.g. concerning substances hazardous to water


2.1.3. Monitoring of Groundwater Quality

The national groundwater quality network mainly covers the important aquifers in porous media and karst groundwater. Most sampling sites were selected from wells in perpetual use for industrial, commercial and household purposes. New wells were erected in only a few cases. At this stage there are 1,359 sampling sites for groundwater in porous media and this number will increase to 1,600 within 1996. For karst groundwater 70 sampling sites are being observed at present but the number will also increase to 450 within this year. Consequently the density of the sampling network is at an average of about 10 sites/100 km² in porous media and 2 sites/100 km² in karst areas.

Most of the groundwater samples are taken 4 times a year (river water samples are collected six times a year and sediments as well as biological material are sampled once a year. At some sampling sites water samples are taken 12 times a year because of special bilateral agreements on transboundary water management issues.

The parameters observed can be divided into 3 groups. The first group covers all substances necessary for a general characterisation of hydrochemical properties (e.g. conductivity, pH, dissolved oxygen...) or general pollution situations (nutrients, TOC, DOC). The second group provides an Austrian-wide survey (e.g. heavy metals, hydrocarbons, AOX ); substances that do not seem to influence water quality over a certain period of time are not measured routinely and are replaced by others. The third unit covers substances with high ecotoxicological relevance like pesticides, benzene, PAH; their analyses demands sophisticated and expensive analytical techniques. Therefore their selection depends on specific land use and pollution situations. The selection of substances is adapted to regional requirements.

The continuous adaptations of the monitoring programme to specific requirements of water pollution control combined with an appropriate selection of substances guarantee an economical realisation of the monitoring programme.

Sampling and analysing are entirely carried out by private subcontractors who are enlisted by the provincial authorities. The sampling components are laid down in the contract with the laboratories. Each laboratory has to make a standard operation procedure for taking groundwater samples which have to be approved by the employer. An education programme for standardising the sampling procedures is organised by the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry. The main points of this quality assurance are as follows: regular laboratory control; an obligatory participation of all contractors in round robin tests; control samples; contractors have to disclose the extent of internal quality assurance they intend to apply within the contract; contractors have to put down all methods used (from bottle washing to data entry) and the contractors are obliged to document all necessary facts and data for a period of 3 (now 10) years.

The groundwater quality networks have collected data since 1991. It has an average record length of 3 years. The data collected is stored and managed in the Federal Environment Agency. The agency’s equipment for the hardware and operating system is composed of VMS; UNIX; DOS; Windows and Windows NT. The Federal Environment Agency also developed the software for data treatment by using language; software, query and reporting tools such as C; Pascal; DCL; SQL; SAS; Lotus etc.

The information on groundwater quality data is generally free. For the annual summarising report ("Gewässergütebericht") the printing costs have to be paid for.

2.1.4. Structure of the Administrative Organisations Concerning Groundwater Quantity

In Austria the responsibilities for groundwater monitoring are shared between the federal authorities and the nine provinces. The Central Hydrological Office, founded in 1893, is a division of the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry in Austria. The legal basis of the division-work is the Federal Act on the Survey of Water Cycle and Water Quality from the year 1979. This act is also called Act on Hydrography. The Act on Hydrography was amended to the 1990 Water Act. On the basis of this act the hydrological divisions in the services of the nine federal provinces are running their own observation networks. Austria is also a signatory to several water treaties with neighbouring countries.

The Hydrological Service in Austria comprises three sections: the Hydrological Central Office, the hydrological divisions in the executive authorities of the nine provincial governments along with several directorates for waterways, finally about 2,500 observers; and has the following general tasks and objectives:

  • survey of the water cycle (observation and measurements)
  • responsibility for monitoring and reporting
  • protection of the environment
  • observation of the influence of climatic change
  • management of basic and special networks
  • contact with collaborating organisations
  • regular control of the observer stations and observers, calibration of the equipment, datacheck by comparison with neighbouring stations

The monitoring systems comply national and international standards (e.g. WMO). Data quality control standards assure reliable data.


2.1.5. Monitoring of Groundwater Quantity

The Hydrological Service’s observation network has a national coverage of some 83,850 km². The networks comprises 3,100 observation points ( i.e. 30 sampling sites/100 km² in porous aquifers and 0.06 sampling sites/100 km² in karst aquifers) spread over 30 karst groundwater regions and 140 groundwater regions in porous media. The majority of observation points, 1,600, are in bored and driven wells. 2,610 observation points observe the water level in a non recording way, 290 in a recording way. In addition water level observation points measure water temperature and the altitude and co-ordinates are indicated.

The network has been in operation since 1930 and each station, on average, has a record length of 25 years. Water level and water temperature are sampled weekly for basic programmes and more often than weekly (water level) or monthly (water temperature) for special ones. At springs water level, discharge, water temperature, conductivity and turbidity are observed continuously (basic programmes) or monthly and fewer (special programmes). The quality of observed data is assured by regular controlling of stations, comparison with neighbouring stations, check of completeness and attention of special hydrological events.

Data are written sequentially to magnetic tape on a Siemens BS2000 computer at the Central Hydrological Office. Software developed in PLI or Cobol is used to manage the data. The data collected can be given free of charge but there are restrictions for data availability. The data are published periodically in: Hydrological Yearbooks (Hydrographisches Jahrbuch von Österreich); volumes of comprehended data on Austrian Hydrology; Information Bulletins of the Hydrological Service.


Geographic coverage


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Filed under: freshwater, monitoring
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