© Bert Beelen/Hollandse Hoogte

Groundwater extraction by businesses

Between 2000 and 2014, 5 percent less fresh (and brackish) groundwater was extracted. Total groundwater consumption per euro value added decreased by 20 percent in this period.

The water intensity of an individual sector or all economic sectors together is calculated as water consumption divided by value added (constant prices with base year 2010). A lower water intensity means lower water consumption per euro value added, which indicates that companies use water more efficiently. Such an increase in efficiency could result from water conservation through the use of more efficient technology, but could also be explained by a change in production processes, e.g. a shift towards less water-intensive production processes and /or products.

The issue

Enhancement of water productivity is receiving worldwide attention, for example in the implementation of the United Nations’ sustainable development goals; in particular in association with agricultural and food production as well as water ecosystem services. Aside from the extraction of large quantities of fresh and saline surface water, the extraction of groundwater in the Netherlands is receiving more and more attention. Groundwater withdrawals call for appropriate measures by water managers such as water authorities, which must respond to situations of water scarcity which are partly the result of such withdrawals. As a direct consequence of withdrawals, groundwater level declines may occur in specific areas after long periods of drought, possibly exacerbated by increasingly extreme weather conditions such as lots of wind and sunshine which may be caused indirectly by climate change. World population expansion and increasing prosperity (also per capita) boost demand for food, (bio) energy, biofuels and products, accompanied by a growing demand for good quality (fresh) water. This may have adverse effects on the natural environment and on the sustainability of the production of natural raw materials. Hence, responsible withdrawal of renewable water resources without depletion is of vital importance for securing a sustainable freshwater supply, meanwhile taking into account the capacity of the natural environment to maintain a consistent supply of water ecosystem services.


The average groundwater intensity of Dutch production activities has decreased since 2000 from 2.03 litres per euro to 1.63 litres per euro in 2014, a decrease of 20 percent. Intensity is measured as groundwater extraction from the Dutch subsurface (in litres of water per euro of value added). This improved groundwater use efficiency can partly be explained by the growth in groundwater-extensive production activities such as seen in most service sectors. It is also the result of measures which have been implemented in order to reduce water use in water-intensive activities such as in agriculture and in the production of base metals and paper. In the long term, these will contribute to SDG 6 on access to safe water sanitation and sound management of freshwater ecosystems.
Water use in agriculture naturally shows seasonal patterns that are mainly determined by the extent to which groundwater is needed for irrigation. The relatively limited use of groundwater in energy supply has been boosted considerably in recent years by a number of production plants which produce steam from groundwater. In mineral extraction and in manufacturing, groundwater intensity declined steadily for a fairly long time, but this decline has practically come to a standstill in recent years. This suggests that the easiest technical or cheapest options for reducing water use are being exhausted.

International comparison

Concerning the amount of groundwater abstraction per capita, the Netherlands ranks well below the EU average of 24 EU countries on the basis of available Eurostat data for the 2014 reporting year . Between 2004 and 2014, per capita groundwater abstraction in these EU countries was reduced by 5 percent on average. A number of central European countries showed an increase, possibly caused by warmer and drier summers which caused an elevated demand for water. The Netherlands achieved a 10 percent reduction, in line with a steadily but slightly declining trend since 2004. The relationship between groundwater abstraction on the one hand and available water resources on the other, and the opportunities for replenishing these sources with precipitation within one year , determine the level of 'water stress', one of the indicators in the context of the UN sustainable development goals dealing with water. The prevalence of water stress on a national and typically also on a local level is primarily the result of geographic, climatic and soil conditions and the (peak in the) withdrawals. Some countries withdraw relatively large amounts of water per capita for use in agriculture. The Netherlands can however largely rely on the naturally available water that is replenished throughout the season by precipitation, the largely rainfed type of agriculture.