Water Disposal - Groundwater Recharge

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Applicable in systems:
1, 2 , 3 , 4 , 5 , 6 , 7 , 8 , 9
Level of Application
Household XX
Neighbourhood XX
City XX


Effluent, Stormwater

Level of management
Household XX
Shared XX
Public XX


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Icon water disposal groundwater recharge.png

Treated effluent and/or stormwater can be directly discharged into receiving water bodies (such as rivers, lakes, etc.) or into the ground to recharge aquifers.

The use of the surface water body, whether it is for industry, recreation, spawning habitat, etc., will influence the quality and quantity of treated wastewater that can be introduced without deleterious effects. Alternatively, water can be discharged into aquifers. Groundwater recharge is increasing in popularity as groundwater resources deplete and as saltwater intrusion becomes a greater threat to coastal communities. Although the soil is known to act as a filter for a variety of contaminants, groundwater recharge should not be viewed as a treatment method. Once an aquifer is contaminated, it is next to impossible to reclaim it.

Design Considerations

It is necessary to ensure that the assimilation capacity of the receiving water body is not exceeded, i.e. that the receiving body can accept the quantity of nutrients without being overloaded. Parameters such as turbidity, temperature, suspended solids, BOD, nitrogen and phosphorus (among others) should be carefully controlled and monitored before releasing any water into a natural body. Local authorities should be consulted to determine the discharge limits for the relevant parameters as they can widely vary. For especially sensitive areas, a post-treatment technology (e.g., chlorination, see POST, p. 136) may be required to meet microbiological limits.

The quality of water extracted from a recharged aquifer is a function of the quality of the wastewater introduced, the method of recharge, the characteristics of the aquifer, the residence time, the amount of blending with other waters and the history of the system. Careful analysis of these factors should precede any recharge project.

Advantages Disadvantages/limitations
- May provide a ‘drought-proof’ water supply (from groundwater)

- May increase productivity of water bodies by maintaining constant levels

- Discharge of nutrients and micropollutants may affect natural water bodies and/or drinking water

- Introduction of pollutants may have long-term impacts
- May negatively affect soil and groundwater properties


The adequacy of discharge into a water body or aquifer will entirely depend on the local environmental conditions and legal regulations. Generally, discharge to a water body is only appropriate when there is a safe distance between the discharge point and the next closest point of use. Similarly, groundwater recharge is most appropriate for areas that are at risk of saltwater intrusion or aquifers that have a long retention time. Depending on the volume, the point of discharge and/ or the quality of the water, a permit may be required.

Health Aspects/Acceptance

Generally, cations (Mg2+, K+, NH4 +) and organic matter will be retained within a solid matrix, while other contaminants (such as nitrates) will remain in the water. There are numerous models for the remediation potential of contaminants and microorganisms, but predicting downstream or extracted water quality for a large suite of parameters is rarely feasible. Therefore, potable and nonpotable water sources should be clearly identified, the most important parameters modelled and a risk assessment completed.

Operation & Maintenance

Regular monitoring and sampling is important to ensure compliance with regulations and to ensure public health requirements. Depending on the recharge method, some mechanical maintenance may be required.


  • ARGOSS (2001). Guidelines for Assessing the Risk to Groundwater from on-Site Sanitation. British Geological Survey Commissioned Report, CR/01/142, Keyworth, UK.
Available at: bgs.ac.uk
  • Seiler, K. P. and Gat, J. R. (2007). Groundwater Recharge from Runoff, Infiltration and Percolation. Springer, Dordrecht, NL.
  • Tchobanoglous, G., Burton, F. L. and Stensel, H. D. (2004). Wastewater Engineering: Treatment and Reuse, Metcalf & Eddy, 4th Ed. (Internat. Ed.). McGraw-Hill, New York, US.
  • WHO (2006). Guidelines for the Safe Use of Wastewater, Excreta and Greywater. Volume 3: Wastewater and Excreta Use in Aquaculture. World Health Organization, Geneva, CH.
Available at: who.int


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The material on this page was adapted from:

Elizabeth Tilley, Lukas Ulrich, Christoph Lüthi, Philippe Reymond and Christian Zurbrügg (2014). Compendium of Sanitation Systems and Technologies, published by Sandec, the Department of Water and Sanitation in Developing Countries of Eawag, the Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology, Dübendorf, Switzerland.

The 2nd edition publication is available in English. French and Spanish are yet to come.