Sustainability of Groundwater: Balancing Increased Rainfall and Reduced Extraction

Sustainability of Groundwater: Balancing Increased Rainfall and Reduced Extraction
Posted on 05-06-2023

Sustainability of Groundwater: Balancing Increased Rainfall and Reduced Extraction

Introduction: India has been grappling with the depletion of groundwater resources, particularly in north India, where increased pumping for irrigation has contributed to a significant decline. As groundwater use and the variability of summer monsoon rainfall are the primary factors affecting groundwater storage, the challenges posed by climate change further threaten its sustainability. This article explores the current groundwater scenario in India, highlights the challenges to its sustainability, emphasizes the need to reduce groundwater use for irrigation, and discusses the way forward.

Groundwater Scenario in India: Groundwater, a hidden resource stored beneath the ground in aquifers, constitutes a crucial water source. In India, it accounts for 39% of the country's usable water resources, with an annual availability of 433 billion cubic meters (BCM). However, India faces a groundwater crisis due to unregulated extraction, excessive irrigation, poor management systems, groundwater pollution, and the impacts of climate change. The extraction of groundwater has exceeded the recharge rate, putting nearly 80% of drinking water at risk over the next two decades.

Governance Challenges: India's legal framework lacks explicit definitions of groundwater ownership and rights, relying on outdated laws. This leads to exclusionary practices tied to land ownership, violating the fundamental right to water and life. The Central Groundwater Board (CGWB) and Central Ground Water Authority (CGWA) were established to develop policies and programs for groundwater management. However, effective governance remains a challenge.

Challenges to Groundwater Sustainability: Climate change exacerbates the sustainability of groundwater resources. While warming climates may increase summer monsoon rainfall, the projected increase in groundwater extraction for irrigation can negate the benefits of increased precipitation. Additionally, the increased evapotranspiration caused by a warming climate further limits water availability for groundwater recovery.

Imperative to Reduce Groundwater Use for Irrigation: To ensure the sustainability of groundwater, it is crucial to reduce unsustainable groundwater use for irrigation. This would allow groundwater storage to recover with the anticipated increase in rainfall due to climate change. Promoting more efficient irrigation techniques is essential for conserving groundwater during periods of drought.

Way Ahead: To effectively manage groundwater resources, satellite observations, such as those provided by NASA's GRACE satellites, can be utilized to understand the variability of groundwater storage. This information can inform targeted conservation initiatives and aid in sustainable groundwater management.

Conclusion: Sustaining groundwater resources in India necessitates a balanced approach that considers the impacts of climate change and addresses the challenges associated with unsustainable groundwater extraction. By reducing groundwater use for irrigation and promoting efficient practices, combined with increased rainfall, India can work towards preserving its vital groundwater reserves for future generations.

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