gwTriade – Integrative monitoring of groundwater quality

Kleine Wellen mit Blick auf den steinigen Grund

The aim of the gwTriade project is to develop an integrated assessment concept for groundwater ecosystems based on an ecotoxicological characterisation, chemical analysis and the monitoring of faunal diversity. Through the social-ecological analysis, the criteria for groundwater assessment developed in the project will be tested and prioritised with a view to to societal objectives.

Research approach

In view of the challenges that arise as a result of the many anthropogenic influences on groundwater, the project focuses on the assessment of groundwater quality and the ecological status of groundwater ecosystems. For this purpose, the most important groundwater pollutants are identified on the one hand and suitable test procedures for assessing the impact of these substances on groundwater biodiversity are developed on the other. On this basis, the project will develop and test an integrated assessment concept specifically developed for groundwater systems. The assessment concept is based on a triad approach. This combines standardized ecotoxicological effect-based bioassay methods, chemical analysis and the monitoring of faunal diversity. The triad concept builds on the understanding that neither chemical analysis, biotests nor biocoenosis studies alone are sufficient to comprehensively assess an ecological status. Rather, a combination of all three pillars is necessary. 

The focus of ISOE’s work in the collaborative project is on the incorporation of practical knowledge into the integrated assessment concept and the transfer of research results into practice. In addition, the societal demands on groundwater protection and use are being elaborated. One particular focus is on conflict constellations and the question of whether these are intensified by taking groundwater biodiversity into account in laws and guidelines. Based on experiences with other environmental conflicts, mechanisms and solution approaches for conflict management in the groundwater sector are derived, and the evaluation criteria developed in the project are examined and prioritised with regard to societal objectives. The results will then provide the necessary scientific basis for measures geared towards protecting and preserving the groundwater ecosystem and its ecosystem services. On this basis, a target group-specific recommendation for action on groundwater monitoring will be developed and made available to potential users. 


Groundwater is the most important source of drinking water in Germany (approx. 70%). In addition, groundwater bodies are characterised by a unique biodiversity and essential ecosystem services. At the same time, this valuable water resource is threatened by climate change, overuse and pollution. Although comprehensive regulations are included in the EU Water Framework Directive (WFD) and the Groundwater Directive (GWRL), a good third of groundwater bodies fail to meet the required good chemical status. At the political level (e.g. GWRL) it is stipulated as well that groundwater is a habitat worth protecting for numerous groundwater organisms, yet in water management practice groundwater is treated as a resource and is not assessed in terms of its ecological status and protected accordingly. In addition, the recording of the chemical status is limited to a few groups of pollutants that do not reflect the groundwater’s actual load of substances. In view of the importance of clean groundwater for the environment and humans, this imbalance must be redressed in research and practice in order to be able to adequately protect the groundwater ecosystem in the future and to continue to ensure a safe drinking water supply.

Research and project partners

  • Goethe University Frankfurt am Main, Department of Evolutionary Ecology and Environmental Toxicology (E3T) (lead)
  • IWW Water Centre, Mühlheim an der Ruhr
  • Rheinland-Pfälzische Technische Universität Kaiserslautern-Landau (RPTU)
  • Zweckverband Landeswasserversorgung, Stuttgart

Practice partner 

  • European NORMAN Network of reference laboratories, research centres and related organisations for monitoring of emerging environmental substances
  • DVGW – German Technical and Scientific Association for Gas and Water 
  • Umweltbundesamt (UBA)


The project “gwTriade – Ecological and Ecotoxicological Groundwater Quality Monitoring based on an Integrative Triad Approach” is funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) within the funding measure “Sustainable Groundwater Management (LURCH)”.


2023/03 – 2026/02