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The Environment Agency has begun mapping deep aquifers across England to ease resource pressure in water-stressed parts of the country.

Increasing demand and changes to abstraction licenses in recent years to protect vulnerable waterways such as chalk streams mean alternative sources will be required in future.

Following a review of deep aquifers by Mott Macdonald, the Environment Agency has proposed to apply the methodology used in the study to a phased programme of mapping across England to identify and protect the geological features.

The research noted a trend of increasing salinity at depth but found that brackish water from underground could be used for irrigation or livestock.

The EA said hydraulic fracturing – more commonly known as fracking – may have impacted some aquifers and made them unsuitable for drinking, but suggested they could still help to ease pressure on fresh water supplies if the non-potable water they contain can be used in cases where lower quality is acceptable.