Groundwater is essential for drinking water provision and food production while hosting unique biodiversity and delivering key ecosystem services. However, overexploitation and contamination are prevailing threats in many regions worldwide. Even integrated governance schemes like the European Union Water Framework Directive often fail to ensure good quality and quantity conditions of groundwater bodies. Contributing factors are knowledge gaps on groundwater characteristics, limited financial, staff and land resources, as well as policy incoherencies. In this paper, we go further and argue that current groundwater challenges cannot be understood when considering the local situation within hydrologic boundaries only. New long-distance processes are at stake—so called telecouplings—that transgress watershed and administrative boundaries and significantly influence the state of local groundwater bodies. We provide three literature-based examples of European groundwater systems that are impacted by telecouplings, and we show how research and solution perspectives may change when acknowledging the de-localization of groundwater(s). We elaborate on virtual water trade, remote water supply, and seasonal tourist flows
that connect sending
and spillover systems
. These processes can induce groundwater depletion and contamination but may also help to conserve the resource. Our hypothesis calls for a new spatial paradigm to groundwater management and highlights the need for transdisciplinary research approaches as envisioned in socio-hydrogeology.
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