ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Focus on Sustainable Groundwater Management

The growing crisis in groundwater availability in India means that the time is ripe for a paradigm shift in the way we think about it. This article reviews recent developments that have opened up exciting opportunities for change, and makes suggestions to address some of the shortcomings of the past.

India, the largest agricultural user of groundwater in the world, has seen a revolutionary shift from large-scale surface water management to widespread groundwater abstraction in the last 40 years, particularly in the North. The Indo–Gangetic alluvial basin hosts some of the country’s foremost agricultural regions with irrigation predominantly provided by groundwater. As a result, the region has become one of the largest hotspots of groundwater depletion in the world.

A mean rate of groundwater decline of ~4 cm/yr across the region and regional depletion rates of ~20 Gt/yr have been estimated from GRACE satellite gravity measurements in North India (Rodell et al 2009; Tiwari et al 2009; Chen et al 2014). A more recent estimate puts it at 205 km3/yr of groundwater abstraction from the Indo–Gangetic alluvial plains, with the rate increasing by 2–5 km3/yr due to agricultural intensification (MacDonald et al 2016). Another recent study, in the Kosi basin in north Bihar, showed an alarming decline in pre-monsoon groundwater levels of several metres per decade (Sinha and Gupta 2016), given that the mean annual rainfall in this region is ~1,200 mm. Estimates of the total water demand for India for 2025 and 2050 are 843 and 1,180 km3/yr, respectively, against the total availability of 1,006 km3/yr (Verma and Phansalkar 2007).

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