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Science Advances, a published research paper states rising groundwater depletion between 2041-2080 because India would be losing groundwater three times more quickly than ever before.

Even a news report suggests that because of the current rate of global warming, the rate of depletion would be thrice the current rate in the coming years. 

The situation is meant to occur due to the projected increase in precipitation and decrease in the use of groundwater levels due to usage in irrigation.

Also, the nation’s 60% irrigated agriculture depends on groundwater and portions of India due to which people are already facing severe groundwater depletion.

  

What is Groundwater?

Groundwater is the water found beneath the earth’s surface in the cracks and spaces in soil, sand, and rocks. When it rains, some of the water flows into lakes and rivers but a lot of it seeps into the ground and fills up tiny spaces between rocks and soil.

This stored underground water is groundwater which moves slowly through geological formations of soil and rocks called aquifers

The most abundant and accessible source of fresh water which supports 40% of irrigated crop production, helps maintain nearly half of the freshwater ecosystems, and sustains drinking water for more than a quarter of the world’s population. 

In short, groundwater is the future of humanity as it includes our food, water and environmental systems.

Despite being largely unseen, groundwater accounts for one of the most abundant sources of freshwater available to humans. 

The volume of groundwater is 30 times more than all the surface-level water sources like rivers, lakes and streams combined. Yet, surprisingly, groundwater accounts for less than 1% of the water on Earth. 

Recommended Read: Who Is The Groundwater Regulating Authority Of Your State

Importance of Groundwater

Groundwater seeps through the rocks and soil and is stored below the ground in aquifers that are made of limestone, gravel, sand or sandstone.

UNESCO states that India is the largest extractor of groundwater in India.

  • Groundwater supports the livelihoods of 26 crore farmers and agricultural laborers. 
  • Groundwater is an important water source in India which accounts for more than 80% of rural and urban domestic water supplies. 
  • Wells like shallow tube wells dug wells, and deep tube wells provide around 61.6% of water for irrigation and 24.5% with canals. 

The concern is that by 2030, India’s water demand will be twice the supply leading to severe water scarcity for millions and an eventual fall in 6% of the country’s GDP. 

Recommended Read: Water - A Waning Asset

What is Groundwater Depletion?

Long-term decline in the water stored in aquifers leads to groundwater depletion. This happens due to the overexploitation of groundwater resources leading to life-threatening effects like land subsidence, water tables, reduced stream flow and damage to water quality.

Research shows that the largest groundwater depletion is happening in the northern parts of India, Delhi being the epicenter of this crisis that is worsening each day. That being said, let’s find out the reasons behind groundwater depletion in India.

Recommended Read: India's Water Crisis - What You Can Do And Actionable Steps

Why is Groundwater Depleting?

Groundwater depletion occurs due to many interconnected factors like over-extraction of groundwater for multiple human activities, population growth and urbanization, agricultural practices, climate change, deforestation and groundwater pollution.

Some of the reasons for groundwater depletion are as follows:

  • Frequent pumping of water from the ground without any replenishment 
  • Increased demand for industrial, domestic and agricultural needs. 
  • Limited surface water resources lead to over-exploitation of groundwater resources. 
  • Inadequate law regulation of groundwater resources without any penalty.
  • Electricity subsidies and high MSP for water-intensive crops 
  • Due to the green revolution, water-intensive crops were grown in the drought-prone areas leading to over extraction of groundwater. 
  • Unscientific methods of agriculture, deforestation, chemical effluents from industries, and lack of sanitation, all led to the pollution of groundwater making it unusable. 

To understand more about the causes of groundwater depletion, let’s divide it into two parts - rural and urban.

Reason of Groundwater Depletion in Rural Areas

Here’s why groundwater is depleting in rural areas:

Limited access

In many rural areas, there’s limited access to surface water sources like rivers, lakes, etc. due to which they rely on groundwater heavily. 

Lack of alternative water resources

Rural areas have limited access to piped water supply systems or other alternative sources of water. This is why they are more dependent on groundwater leading to groundwater depletion. 

Agriculture practices

Being the primary consumer of groundwater for irrigation purposes, rural communities use inefficient irrigation techniques like flood irrigation which leads to excessive water usage and wastage. 

Recommended Read: Farmers, Rivers And The Environment

Overpopulation

Natural population increase or migration from urban areas leads to increased demand of water for domestic, livestock and agricultural use. 

Climate variations

Increasing temperatures and changes in precipitation patterns affect the groundwater replenishment rate in rural areas. Less rainfall and prolonged droughts are the major reason behind groundwater depletion in rural areas. 

So, these were some of the challenges associated with groundwater depletion. 

Reason of Groundwater Depletion in Urban Areas

Given below are the reasons for groundwater depletion in urban areas:

Contamination and pollution

With urbanization comes pollution and contamination from improper waste disposal, urban runoff and industrial activities which makes it almost impossible to use it for drinking and other purposes. 

Inefficient water management

Poor water management practices and lack of water conservation measures lead to wastage and increased demand for groundwater.

High demand

Due to high population, industrial activities, and commercial enterprises, there’s higher water demand specifically in areas with limited surface water supply, ultimately leading to groundwater depletion.

Urbanization

Population growth, infrastructural development and expansion lead to increased demand of water for industrial, domestic and commercial uses. This heightened demand leads to over-extraction, usage, wastage and depletion. 

Lack of diversification

Without proper diversification of water sources and investment in water recycling, management and reuse practices, groundwater depletion is expected to rise in urban areas. 

Recommended Read: Bangalore Water Crisis

Impact of Groundwater Depletion

With groundwater depletion on the rise, India ranks 120 among 122 countries in the water quality index. The surprising fact is that around 2,00,000 people are dying every year due to polluted water in India.

Moreover, droughts have become frequent in our country leading to severe issues among the masses. Groundwater depletion has led to the following issues:

Sustainability challenges

Continuous groundwater depletion poses a threat to long-term water security as once aquifers are depleted or contaminated, it takes decades for them to replenish naturally. 

Socio-economic consequences

Communities that rely on groundwater for their livelihoods have to compete for water resources leading to conflicts over water allocation, and economic hardship for rural populations. 

Loss of agricultural productivity

Groundwater depletion has led to reduced crop yields, and increased pumping costs because agriculture is heavily dependent on groundwater for irrigation.

Lowered water tables

With the depletion of groundwater reserves, the water table levels have dropped down leading to wells running dry, and less access to groundwater for drinking, industrial and agricultural purposes. 

Saltwater intrusion

Over pumping of groundwater in coastal areas leads to infiltration of freshwater aquifers which further makes groundwater unusable for drinking or agriculture purposes.

Degrading ecosystem

Groundwater depletion significantly harms the aquatic ecosystem leading to reduced base flows to rivers, wetlands, lakes and streams. Plus, it disrupts habitats, diminishes water quality and threatens the survival of aquatic species. 

Land subsidence

Excessive pumping of groundwater also causes the land above aquifers to sink leading to altercations in the topography of land and damage to the infrastructure like roads, pipelines, buildings, etc.

In short, groundwater is consumed at an unsustainable rate, and on top of it climate change is making the condition even worse. 

Recommended Read: India's Views On Water Problem

How Can the Groundwater Depletion Problem Be Solved?

Groundwater extraction depends on factors like population density, land size, crop water needs, user behavior, legislation, economic policies, and power subsidies for irrigation.

Local issues can be solved through proactive community involvement and sustainable usage.

Despite its value, 29% of groundwater blocks are overexploited. Thus, it's essential to address groundwater depletion solutions separately for rural and urban areas to implement effective management strategies.

 

In Rural Areas

Here are some groundwater depletion solutions tailored to rural areas:

Water-efficient irrigation methods

Promoting efficient irrigation techniques like drip irrigation, sprinkler systems, laser leveling, etc. to minimize water wastage and reduce groundwater extraction for agricultural purposes. 

Recommended Read: Sustainable Agricultural Water Management

Rainwater harvesting

start rainwater harvesting

Encouraging rainwater harvesting techniques like contour bunding, rooftop rainwater collection, or farm ponds to store rainfall for domestic and agricultural use supplements groundwater resources during dry periods.

Recommended Read: Affect Of Rain On Drinking Water Supply

Groundwater replenishment initiatives

Implementation of recharge projects like check dams, constructing recharge pits, and percolation ponds for natural replenishment of groundwater. 

Crop rotation

Promoting practices like crop rotation to reduce water scarcity and improve soil health which ultimately reduces the reliance on groundwater.

Community involvement

Foster community support by establishing water associations, participatory water monitoring programs, and community-led initiatives for water conservation and sustainable usage to spread awareness in rural communities. 

Water-saving techniques

Promote water-saving technologies like low-flow irrigation equipment, soil moisture sensors, treadle pumps and other water-saving techniques to reduce groundwater depletion. 

Recommended Read: Ways To Conserve Water - Easy And Effective Tips

Awareness and education

Conducting educational programs and awareness campaigns helps inform rural communities about the importance of groundwater conservation, the consequences of groundwater depletion and sustainable water management activities.

Recommended Read: How DPS Nagpur Is Shaping Young Minds To Become Water-Conscious

Livelihood diversification

Strategies to eliminate dependence on groundwater-intensive activities like agriculture by encouraging alternative income-generating options like travel and tourism, agroforestry, etc. support rural livelihood in many ways.

Integrated water resource management

To create interlinks between surface water and groundwater, an integrated approach to water resource management must be followed to achieve sustainable water usage in rural areas.

stormwater

In Urban Areas

Addressing groundwater depletion challenges in urban areas requires a blend of strategies and community initiatives like those given below:

Recycle and reuse

Invest more in water recycling and reuse to treat wastewater like toilet flushing, industrial processes, and irrigation for non-potable uses. 

Storm water management

Implementing stormwater management strategies like green infrastructure, permeable pavement, rain gardens, and retention ponds to infiltrate rainwater and replenish groundwater. 

Artificial groundwater recharge

Using methods like recharge wells, infiltration basins, and managed aquifer recharge to supplement groundwater levels. 

Land use planning

Incorporating considerations into urban planning processes to preserve green spaces, reduce impervious surfaces, implement zoning regulations, limit groundwater depletion, and promote sustainable development practices. 

Collaboration and partnerships

Foster collaborations between water utilities, government agencies, researchers, communities, and stakeholders to develop better-integrated solutions for addressing groundwater depletion in urban areas.

Recommended Read- Innovative solutions for smart water management!

Bottom Line

No single action, be it a community-based, traditional water harvesting system or reliance on market forces can itself alleviate the crisis in India. There has to be a collective effort to reduce the effects of groundwater depletion in India

As far as the companies are concerned, they can pave the way to water conservation by using Dhaara Smart from Kritsnam. It is an innovative way to water management that makes your business sustainable, more efficient, and smarter. By switching to smarter ways of managing water resources, businesses can contribute a greater part in this water conservation revolution. 

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