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Global water consumption has increased 7-fold since the start of the 20th century. Water resources are likely to start to run out due to population growth, agricultural demands and reduction in recharge with climate change. Alternatives such as desalination are costly and energy demanding. In Europe groundwater provides up to 98% of potable water supplies in some countries. Consequently it will become more important to protect and enhance groundwater resources both in Europe and around the world.

There is chronic and widespread contamination of European land and aquifers with contaminants from industrial, agricultural, mining, military and other activities. The European Environment Agency (EEA) estimates that there are currently around 130,000 instances of groundwater contamination in Europe alone, while 3 million sites have potentially polluting activities. Considering the typical costs to remediate each site, the replacement value of that unusable groundwater is around €39B.

This liability is set against the ambitions of the Water Framework Directive, which aims to protect and restore water resources across Europe and to ensure their long-term sustainable use. Linked to this are significant socio-economic pressures from brownfield redevelopment within urban regeneration programmes, which aim to return this asset back to good use for communities and reduce consumption of greenfield land. This philosophy is central to sustainable development.

Within this framework, there is a need to develop sustainable approaches for the remediation of contaminated groundwater resources. Traditional remediation methods for contaminated land and groundwater are widely acknowledged to be unsustainable in many cases, considering environmental impacts, costs, performance and treatment timescales. Sustainability can be increased during all phases of contaminated site remediation, but sustainability concepts have historically not been fully considered within management decisions and practice.

Sustainable remediation practices integrate all relevant technical, environmental, economic and social indicators to identify an acceptable balance which delivers net benefits. It allows sustainable development criteria to be formally incorporated within contaminated land and groundwater management strategies at all stages of decision-making, scales of operation and site development phases.

In situ remediation (ISR) is often the most sustainable management approach for soil and groundwater contamination. This field is relatively new, but with many innovative ISR concepts which offer tremendous potential to manage complex contamination problems which would not be possible with traditional methods. However, the practical implementation of sustainable ISR in Europe and beyond is significantly underdeveloped. This can only be improved by cross-disciplinary applied research that integrates the various scientific, technical, environmental and socio-economic aspects (e.g. fundamental process understanding, performance assessment, engineering design and cost-benefits) that affect decision-making, management strategies and technology applications for contaminated land and groundwater across different scales. ADVOCATE (Advancing Sustainable In Situ Remediation for Contaminated Land and Groundwater), aims to address this challenge.

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