Groundwater vulnerability assessment: from overlay methods to statistical methods in the Lombardy Plain area

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Stefania Stevenazzi *
Marco Masetti
Giovanni Pietro Beretta
(*) Corresponding Author:
Stefania Stevenazzi | stefania.stevenazzi@unimi.it

Abstract

Groundwater is among the most important freshwater resources. Worldwide, aquifers are experiencing an increasing threat of pollution from urbanization, industrial development, agricultural activities and mining enterprise. Thus, practical actions, strategies and solutions to protect groundwater from these anthropogenic sources are widely required. The most efficient tool, which helps supporting land use planning, while protecting groundwater from contamination, is represented by groundwater vulnerability assessment. Over the years, several methods assessing groundwater vulnerability have been developed: overlay and index methods, statistical and process-based methods. All methods are means to synthesize complex hydrogeological information into a unique document, which is a groundwater vulnerability map, useable by planners, decision and policy makers, geoscientists and the public. Although it is not possible to identify an approach which could be the best one for all situations, the final product should always be scientific defensible, meaningful and reliable. Nevertheless, various methods may produce very different results at any given site. Thus, reasons for similarities and differences need to be deeply investigated. This study demonstrates the reliability and flexibility of a spatial statistical method to assess groundwater vulnerability to contamination at a regional scale. The Lombardy Plain case study is particularly interesting for its long history of groundwater monitoring (quality and quantity), availability of hydrogeological data, and combined presence of various anthropogenic sources of contamination. Recent updates of the regional water protection plan have raised the necessity of realizing more flexible, reliable and accurate groundwater vulnerability maps. A comparison of groundwater vulnerability maps obtained through different approaches and developed in a time span of several years has demonstrated the relevance of the continuous scientific progress, recognizing strengths and weaknesses of each research.

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