In Ireland, a Group Water Scheme (GWS) is a private, community-owned water supply. Group Water Schemes form a significant supply type outside Irish cities and large towns, with many rural communities relying on a GWS for their drinking water. Since 2013, a programme to delineate zones of contribution (ZOC) for approximately 260 groundwater supplied GWSs has been carried out across Ireland. The programme -funded through the Rural Water Programme by the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government- is a collaboration between Geological Survey Ireland (GSI) and the National Federation of Group Water Schemes (NFGWS). The main output of the pilot project was to delineate ZOCs and highlight groundwater vulnerability within the ZOC. This enables scientifically informed decisions in relation to possible protective measures and future planning. Another fundamental aim of the project was to engage with the GWS personnel so that they would fully understand the concepts and data behind the reports, and why certain data were requested or collected (e.g., hydrochemistry, borehole logs, water levels etc.). The final element of the project was to present the information and discuss the conceptual model, recommendations and any management implications with the GWSs. Evidently an increased understanding has enabled the GWSs to have greater ownership of their supply and the decisions made about it.
Such understanding and ownership are key since the sustainability and governance of their groundwater supplies are under mounting pressure. On top of the complexities posed by Irish hydrogeological settings (e.g., karst, fractured bedrock aquifers, recharge rejection), water usage and quality are coming under increasing stress from changing population and changing land use practices. Group Water Schemes are affected by: agricultural intensification and the associated impacts from nitrates, pathogens, and pesticides; increased infrastructural development; changing demographic and social dynamics; increased housing and wastewater treatment requirements; climate change in different guises (e.g., drought, groundwater flooding, extreme weather events). The ZOC programme has helped educate GWSs about groundwater and their management options. It has provided communities with a greater understanding of their catchment and established a baseline hydrochemical database from which to operate. The programme has placed GWSs in a better position to advise stakeholders and future proof their water supplies. This paper presents case studies, outlining some of these pressures and demonstrating the benefits of this mutual collaboration.