World Water Day (March 22)
- Groundwater: Making the Invisible Visible
- The primary focus is to draw attention to the role of groundwater in water and sanitation systems, agriculture, industry, ecosystems, and climate change adaptation.
India: one of the largest users
- With an annual groundwater extraction of 248.69 billion cubic meters (2017), India is among the largest users of groundwater in the world.
- Almost 89% of the groundwater extracted is used for irrigation and the rest is for domestic and industrial use (9% and 2%).
What the editorial is about?
- The existing approach to dealing with surface water and groundwater and the reasons why it needs a relook.
Why there is a need for special care for the groundwater?
Not fully recognized in policymaking
- Groundwater helps reduce the risk of temporary water shortage and caters to the needs of arid and semiarid regions, but its value has not been fully recognised in policymaking.
- While dependence on groundwater is increasing everywhere, there are serious issues of depletion of stored groundwater and deterioration of quality.
- High temperatures and drought threaten water security.
Impact of climate change
- Due to its high storage capacity, groundwater is more resilient to the effects of climate change than surface water.
- The international conference on ‘Groundwater, Key to the Sustainable Development Goals’ (May 2022) and the UN-Water Summit on Groundwater (December 2022) are part of global initiatives to highlight the significance of groundwater in sustainable development.
Concerns associated with the groundwater of the country
- According to the Central Ground Water Board, the annual groundwater withdrawal is considered to be safe when the extraction rate is limited to below 70% of the annual replenishable recharge.
- Available data indicate that the level of extraction for the country in 2017 was 63%, from 58% in 2004. However, the level varied across regions.
- NITI Aayog has set the 70% extraction value as the target to be achieved by 2030.
- Besides the high level of extraction, quality is also an issue of concern.
- A quantity-wise safe district may be vulnerable due to deterioration of water quality.
- Fluoride, iron, salinity, nitrate, and arsenic contamination are major problems.
The existing approach to dealing with surface water and groundwater independently has severe limitations.
A national water framework with an integrated perspective
- As the Mihir Shah Committee (2016) proposed, the Central Water Commission and the Central Ground Water Board could be united and a national water framework with an integrated perspective developed.
- There is also a need to work out local-level plans covering water resources in all their forms
- surface water
- soil water
- the resource use sectors.
Re-establishing connections between surface and groundwater systems
- Re-establishing connections between surface and groundwater systems, both for governance and management, entails a local area approach that will involve
- revisiting the present groundwater estimations process
- large-scale aquifer mapping
- linking aquifers with river basin/watershed boundaries
- hydrogeomorphology analysis
- factoring land uses and human-induced changes in the water system
- Linking cropping patterns and crop intensity with groundwater availability, aquifer type, and the present state of groundwater extraction at the farm level is imperative.
- At present, there is an energy subsidy for groundwater extraction with little regulation.
- This encourages farmers to withdraw water at their will.
Ownership of community resources
- There is a larger issue of ownership of community resources in this context.
- Although groundwater recharging takes place through a geohydrological process and is not confined to administrative or property boundaries, a landowner has the exclusive right to groundwater available on their property.
- A community resource thus turns into a private resource due to the location of the extraction site.
- Re-articulation of the legal framework for groundwater use gains relevance in this context.
- The new paradigm for groundwater management is a socio-ecological challenge, where localism matters.
- It warrants technical, economic, legal and governance remediation with space for active public participation and community regulatory options to maintain groundwater balance at the village/ watershed level.
Practice Question for Mains
- The existing approach to dealing with surface water and groundwater independently has severe limitations. Comment. (250 Words, 15 Marks)