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Groundwater levels down dramatically, rivers and streams gradually dying up.

The ongoing drought has seen groundwater levels in Flanders fall dramatically.  Groundwater levels in our region are already "low to very low" at 79% of the measuring points used. Meanwhile, water levels in rivers and streams have also fallen noticeably. Historically low average flow rates are being recorded at 18% measuring points along our waterways.  That’s according to new figures from the Flemish Environment Agency (VMM). While nature and agriculture (and now also shipping) are encountering ever greater difficulties as a result of the drought, there is no threat to drinking water supplies for the time being. 

According to the new figures, there are low groundwater levels at 44% percent of the measuring points in Flanders and very low levels at 35% of the measuring points in our region. Just a month ago these figures stood at 31% and 13% respectively. The number of locations with low or very low groundwater levels has almost doubled from 44% to 79% in just one month.

The figures from the beginning of August 2020 are even worse than those during the last dry summer in 2020. Then there were "only" low or very low levels recorded at 75% the measuring points. A year ago, during the wetter summer of 2021, this was the case at just 7% the measuring points.

The major precipitation deficit we reported on last Saturday and the extremely dry weather during July are having an increasing impact. In some parts of the region the precipitation deficit (which also includes evaporation) has already risen to more than 300mm (or 300 liters of water per m²) since the start of the hydrological summer on 1 April. This is the case in parts of West Flanders and a large part of East Flanders. The East of the region is generally faring slightly better.

The graph below from the Flemish Environment Agency shows the evolution of groundwater levels in Flanders during the past two years. The more brown or dark brown, the drier it is. The graph shows that the number of places with a "normal" water level (in white) is also falling sharply.

Waterways also in bad shape

Smaller, unnavigable waterways in Flanders are also in bad shape. Very low and low 14-day average flow rates are currently being recorded at 53%  of the measuring points in our region. Record low flow levels have even been recorded at some locations places, for example in parts of West Flanders, the Dender Basin (East Flanders and Flemish Brabant) and the Dijle Basin (Flemish Brabant. This is despite a ban on farmers pumping up water for their crops and livestock that has been in place for several weeks.

VMM’s Katrien Smet told VRT News that "20% of the locations where we recorded low flow levels have been places where this has never been the case before. This is a really big issue for nature, for the fauna and flora. A lot of fish have already died. Some have been able to flee, but in some places the only water left is the effluent from a sewage treatment plant or from an industrial site. The impact on nature is very large."

Ms Smet added that the situation is serious and it is being closely monitored.  

However, she also stressed that Flanders is now better equipped to deal with a drought than it was a few years ago, at least as far as our drinking water supply is concerned.

On Monday the Drought Advisory Group will meet to discuss the current situation. While no new measures were taken at the Group’s previous meeting this could change soon if the weather remains bone dry.



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