I am very pleased to open this, the 38th Annual Irish Groundwater Conference, in my capacity as Minister for Natural Resources which includes responsibility for the Geological Survey of Ireland. I would like to extend my thanks to the International Association of Hydrogeologists Irish Group for hosting this event and inviting me to be here this morning.
Geology and hydrogeology are often out-of-sight and certainly out-of-mind for many of us. However, it's responsible for the soil where we grow our food, much of our drinking water, the rocks and stones that build our houses and roads and the minerals and resources we need to function as a society.
As Minister for Natural Resources I'm delighted to see this dedicated event which highlights the value of groundwater as a major natural resource, and provides a forum for industry, academia, local authorities and state bodies to discuss groundwater science and best practice. I am particularly encouraged by the active engagement here of people from such a wide range of disciplines and responsibilities. It's this integrated and informed approach that will support and improve policies and real decision making in the future.
My background working with the agricultural industry on environmental issues made me appreciate the importance to improve practises and preserve the environment and I am delighted to see that there is so much work continuing in this by members and friends of the IAH.
I am pleased to see the emphasis in the programme on groundwater as a clean, but vulnerable, water resource. Groundwater is of central importance to our country's water infrastructure. Groundwater supplies up to one third of Ireland's drinking water across public and private sectors. For public supplies, groundwater sources represent 73% of Irish Water's treated water supply assets, and contribute approximately 17% to the National Public Water Supply.
The recent Economic Review of the Geoscience Sector prepared for my Department and Geological Survey Ireland puts a value on the economy-wide impact of groundwater collection, treatment and supply at €65 million and over 700 jobs in 2016. The same INDECON report estimated a value range for groundwater resources of between €400 million and €500 million, highlighting its immense potential value to the economy.
The role of groundwater as a water supply also has particular resonance with my Rural Development brief. Two thirds of Group Water Schemes use wells and springs. In rural areas not served by Public or Group Water Schemes, groundwater is usually the only source of supply and there are more than 100,000 private wells and springs in use today.
With such a large proportion of the country relying on groundwater it is essential that this resource is properly protected. Therefore it is critical to improve our understand of the science and practise of groundwater if we are to manage our resources in a sustainable way, and I am delighted to see so many talks on the programme addressing key issues such as groundwater and water supply, land use pressures and human health risks.
I would also like to acknowledge the range of activities Geological Survey Ireland have in this field and their ongoing activities to develop our understanding of Ireland's groundwater and karst. This in an important annual event for my Department and particularly for the Geological Survey as an opportunity to engage with key stakeholders and showcase their activities.
The new Groundwater Flooding project, a direct response to our current Programme for Government, has provided additional resources for the study of groundwater flooding in impacted regions and is already working closely with the Local Authorities and community groups in the affected areas. The project has now completed installing the largest groundwater flood monitoring programme undertaken to date, and is on track to produce groundwater flood hazard maps for the 2nd implementation cycle of the EU Floods Directive. I'm delighted to see the project well-represented in the talks this morning.
The mapping of the Groundwater Programme, maintaining Drinking Water quality through its work on some of the most complex areas, including sand and gravels, and karst, is helping to prepare for future issues of both drought and flooding.
Today I also have the honour of announcing the launch of the Open Topographic Data Viewer, which will be hosted on the Geological Survey Ireland's website. This data viewer provides open access to processed LiDAR data, which gives very high resolution topographic detail.
The Open Topographic Data Viewer is a collaborative project between Geological Survey Ireland, Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, and The Discovery Programme, to make all of their LiDAR data freely available. A number of organisations have acquired data for various reasons such as karst feature mapping, monitoring different types of habitat, archaeological feature prospection and forestry resource assessment.
The aim of the new viewer is to host LiDAR from governmental and non-governmental organisations, to build a mosaic of available data across the country. Making this high quality product freely available will provide the basis on which to undertake new research and improve existing products and techniques. It will also prevent costly duplication of LiDAR collection.
Organisations that have included their data on the viewer along with GSI, include The Heritage Council and Meath County Council, and several more have expressed their interest in making their data available through the viewer. In fact, the next update is already being planned.
There will be more information presented on the Data Viewer by Koen Verbruggen and Shane Carey from the GSI this morning.
In closing, population expansion, the development of our towns and villages, agri-food sector growth and climate change all have the potential to increase the demand for water and place greater pressure on our natural resources. Because we don't always see groundwater, and 'out of site is out of mind', the vital role groundwater plays in many aspects of our environment and economy can often be overlooked. However, effective management and development of groundwater is key to ensuring the sustainability of our water resources as a whole, and I thank you for your efforts in this regard. I know you have a long and busy agenda ahead of you, so I wish you all fruitful deliberations and a successful meeting.