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How the zones work

How do we define groundwater source protection zones?

The shape and size of a zone depends on the condition of the ground, how the groundwater is removed, and other environmental factors. When we define a zone we find out how the groundwater behaves in that area, what constructions there are to get the water out into the public water supply, and the process for doing this. From this we can develop a model of the groundwater environment on which to define the zones.

We divide groundwater source catchments into three zones. The zones are divided as follows:

SPZ1 – Inner protection zone

Defined as the 50 day travel time from any point below the water table to the source. This zone has a minimum radius of 50 metres.

SPZ2 – Outer protection zone

Defined by a 400 day travel time from a point below the water table. The previous methodology gave an option to define SPZ2 as the minimum recharge area required to support 25 per cent of the protected yield. This option is no longer available in defining new SPZs and instead this zone has a minimum radius of 250 or 500 metres around the source, depending on the size of the abstraction.

SPZ3 – Source catchment protection zone

Defined as the area around a source within which all groundwater recharge is presumed to be discharged at the source. In confined aquifers, the source catchment may be displaced some distance from the source. For heavily exploited aquifers, the final Source Catchment Protection Zone can be defined as the whole aquifer recharge area where the ratio of groundwater abstraction to aquifer recharge (average recharge multiplied by outcrop area) is >0.75. There is still the need to define individual source protection areas to assist operators in catchment management. 

Former zone of special interest

A fourth zone SPZ4 or ‘Zone of Special Interest’ was previously defined for some sources. SPZ4 usually represented a surface water catchment which drains into the aquifer feeding the groundwater supply (i.e. catchment draining to a disappearing stream). In the future this zone will be incorporated into one of the other zones i.e. SPZ 1, 2 or 3, whichever is appropriate in the particular case, or become a safeguard zone