The Azores archipelago is located in the North Atlantic Ocean, between latitude 36°55'N to 39°43'N and longitude 25°00'W to 31°16'W. Formed by nine volcanic islands, the Azores has a total area of 2322 km2 and about 243,862 inhabitants (2017).
The Azores archipelago was designated as the ninth River Basin District (RH 9) in Portugal following the adaptation of the EU Water Framework Directive (WFD) to the national law (WL). About 98% of water supply in the Azores archipelago is provided by groundwater abstraction (4.67x107 m3/a) which exceeds by far surface water abstraction (7.94x105 m3/a). Considering that seven out of the nine islands some islands depend strictly on groundwater, sustainable management is an issue of paramount importance.
A total of 51 from the 54 groundwater bodies (94.4%) delimited in the Azores are in good status, being the failures to comply with the WFD criteria due to coastal aquifer salinization and, to a minor extent, problems such as nutrient and microorganism faecal pollution, mainly due to agriculture and waste water discharges, or fluoride local enrichments closely linked to the interaction with volcanic activity.
The administration of the Azores RBD is ensured by the Regional-Directorate for the Environment, from the Energy, Environment and Tourism Secretariat of the Azores government, which is responsible for the overall management and protection of groundwater resources in the archipelago, including water resources planning and the compliance to all legal and regulatory frameworks. The water authority acts in a vertically integrated system with representatives in all the nine islands. Water supply is run directly by 15 of 19 municipalities, corresponding to 47,3% of the Azores inhabitants, and in the remaining municipalities municipal companies (2; 10,8%) or semi-autonomous utilities are responsible (2; 41,9%). Thus the relationship between groundwater science, instrumental toward sustainable development, and the water supply operations is another factor that should accounted for.
Two River Basin Management Plans (RBMP) were already adopted in the Azores. However, the delivery of the RBMP is affected by threatened by several constrains, that can be grouped as follows: (1) low awareness of groundwater significance, (2) legal and regulatory issues not fully adapted to the specific natural, financial, technological and institutional capabilities, as well as to the social and cultural practices, (3) lack of quantitative data, namely the absence of any quantitative monitoring, which also affects legal and institutional capabilities, (4) legal and institutional capacities weakened by the failure to account for the economic dimension of the groundwater, and a specific system for taxation of groundwater abstraction /discharge of pollutants has still to be proposed, (5) low cross-sectorial capacities developed, namely with agricultural sector, resulting from insufficient cooperation and interaction between the water authority and other public and non-public bodies, including water users.