[Editorial] The surface and ground water: Existing approach of dealing with it – Issues and way forward

Quick revision mind map

Context

World Water Day (March 22)

Theme

  • Groundwater: Making the Invisible Visible

Primary Focus

  • 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.

Increasing dependence

  • While dependence on groundwater is increasing everywhere, there are serious issues of depletion of stored groundwater and deterioration of quality.

Water security

  • 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.

Global initiatives

  • 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

Extraction value

  • 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.

Quality

  • 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.

Way Forward

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.

Local-level plans

  • There is also a need to work out local-level plans covering water resources in all their forms
    • Rainwater
    • surface water
    • soil water
    • groundwater
    • 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

Interlinking

  • Linking cropping patterns and crop intensity with groundwater availability, aquifer type, and the present state of groundwater extraction at the farm level is imperative.

More regulation

  • 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.

Conclusion

  • 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

  1. The existing approach to dealing with surface water and groundwater independently has severe limitations. Comment. (250 Words, 15 Marks)
Referred Sources

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