Groundwater: Making the invisible visible

Groundwater: Making the invisible visible

Published on :- March 25th, 2022

22nd of March is observed as World Water Day, and this year's theme is 'Groundwater: Making the Invisible Visible. To mark this day and this year's theme, we took a look at the state of groundwater in India.

Groundwater is a vital resource that provides almost half of all drinking water worldwide, about 40% of water for irrigated agriculture and about 1/3rd of water required for industry. It sustains ecosystems, maintains the base flow of rivers and prevents land subsidence and seawater intrusion. Groundwater recharge is an important part of the climate change adaptation process and is often a solution for people without access to safe water. These factors combined make groundwater an important national and global resource.

In this edition of Data Dialogue, we focus on India's groundwater (GW) scenario, specifically around its recharge, utilization, exploitation and contamination.

Rainfall contributes to approximately two-thirds of groundwater recharge. As of 2020, annual groundwater recharge from rainfall has decreased by 12 billion cubic meters (BCM) (~4%) over a decade. However, groundwater recharge from other sources has increased by 17 BCM (~12%) during the same period.

Out of the total annual groundwater recharge every year, lesser water is available for extraction due to natural losses. On average, 60% of the groundwater is extracted every year in India.

In 2017, more than 63% of the water available for extraction (Total Annual Recharge - Natural Losses) was extracted. In the last two decades, groundwater extraction has increased by 3.5 percentage points.

The share of blocks that are safe from groundwater overexploitation has also been decreasing over the years. In 2004, ~71% of the assessed blocks were safe. However, in 2020, only 63% of the assessed blocks are safe, resulting in an increase in the number of over-exploited blocks of groundwater. In 2020, ~16% of the assessed blocks were over-exploited with the number of blocks identified as semi-critical having almost doubled since 2004.

In 2020, states like Punjab, Rajasthan and Haryana had over-exploited groundwater; that is, these states extracted more groundwater than annually available. Groundwater extraction was least in the northeastern states.

During this year, ~89% of the water extracted was used for irrigation, ~10% for domestic use and ~1% was extracted for industrial use. Over the last decade, the water used for irrigation has fallen by 3 BCM, water used for domestic use has increased by 2 BCM, and industrial usage has risen by 3 BCM.

Contamination of groundwater can result in poor drinking water quality, loss of water supply, degraded surface water systems, high cleanup costs, high costs for alternative water supplies, and/or potential health problems. The consequences of contaminated groundwater or degraded surface water are often severe.

In 2019, ~50% of districts in India had either Nitrate or Fluoride contaminations. The occurrence of Nitrate contamination in groundwater is highest and is prevalent in 394 districts, followed by Fluoride contamination in 359 Districts and Iron contamination in 331 districts. High Nitrate concentrations in groundwater are a public health and environmental risk, and consumption of high concentrated Fluoride water can cause Fluorosis.

Many districts in the country, such as in the states of Rajasthan, Haryana and Gujarat, have 5-6 types of contaminants in their groundwater, beyond the permissible limits.

Over the last decade, we see that across India, Groundwater recharge from Rainfall has decreased, and extraction and over-exploitation have increased. These changes, along with a significant presence of contaminants, highlights the need for a conscious and concerted effort to protect our groundwater resources which are crucial to sustaining India’s diverse ecosystem and ensuring our ability to adapt to climate change in the years to come.

For detailed analysis on quality of water resources, checkout our latest report - Quality of water resources

For more data assets on water click here

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