Managing India’s Groundwater Resources

21 Mar 2022

Presently, 2.3 billion people around the world live in water-stressed areas, of which 733 million live in high and critically water-stressed areas, according to data presented by UN-Water 2021, and the same will be true for more than half the world’s population by 2050, if current trends continue. 

Since 1992, the United Nations has been observing 22nd March as the ‘World Water Day’ every year to raise awareness about this vital resource worldwide. The theme for World Water Day 2022 is ‘Groundwater: Making the Invisible Visible.’ Groundwater accounts for about 30% of the world’s available freshwater.

Groundwater plays a key role in sustaining ecosystems and enabling human adaptation to climate variability and change. However, rising water demand due to population growth and urbanisation, coupled with more intensive agriculture and increasing industrial use, have led to an ever-rising demand for groundwater.  This has led to extraction of ground water at an alarming and unsustainable rate with scant or no regard to the recharging capacities of aquifers and other environmental factors. 

In India, groundwater is the most critical water resource and is the lifeline of India’s food and drinking water security. With about 250 cubic km of extraction in a year, India is the largest extractor of groundwater in the world, as per the Central Ground Water Board (CGWB). 

In a vast majority of rural and urban settings, it underpins agricultural production, livelihoods depending on the rural agrarian economy and urban and rural water supplies. Ground water contributes to nearly 62% in irrigation, 85% in rural water supply and 50% in urban water supply. Increased variability in precipitation and more extreme weather events caused by climate change can lead to longer periods of droughts and floods, which can directly affect the availability and dependency on groundwater.

In long periods of droughts, there is a higher risk of depletion of aquifers, especially in the case of small and shallow aquifers. Effective management of available ground water resources requires an integrated approach, combining a balance of demand and supply side management, application of requisite technology and improvement in efficiency.

Use of new and innovative data-driven technologies is assuming importance in tackling water issues and has the potential to transform water governance. Adopting a combination of new technologies like artificial intelligence (AI), remote sensing, automated decision-making, big data analytics and real-time modelling with forecasting tools can help in making decisions and visualise emerging scenarios for pro-active governance. 

CII’s WATSCAN Tool is one such technology-driven tool involving advanced holistic water management strategies for water planning and evaluation. Over 100+ WATSCAN applications have successfully been applied across various districts in Haryana, Jharkhand, Maharashtra, Odisha and Uttar Pradesh, covering more than 10% of India’s geographical area at various scales.

CII is also accredited by the Central Ground Water Authority (CGWA) as a nodal agency for undertaking water audits for improving water use across industries, especially those with high water dependence. Till date, over 350+ water audits undertaken by CII have provided opportunities for potential water savings of about 300 billion litres.  

To cope with the future of groundwater availability, it is necessary to radically reform all forms of resource consumption. Rainwater harvesting and recycling wastewater are measures that help reduce scarcity and ease pressure on groundwater and other natural water bodies. 

The pumping rates in megacities of India need to be reduced and compensated by urban rainwater harvesting, rural-urban water transfers, aquifer recharge with wastewater and similar measures. Rainwater harvesting structures should be installed in government schools, offices, colleges, buildings and parks so that freshwater demands can be significantly reduced and disparity between water demand and supply too is addressed. This would reduce dependency on freshwater and put treated water to higher usage. 

Farming as per agro-climatic zones and adoption of efficient water management techniques, such as micro-irrigation, can reduce agricultural water footprint of the country.

The impact of climate change on water resources is a complex issue in scope and is unprecedented in scale. Incorporating climate change impacts into water resources management will be important while dealing with existing challenges. 

Lastly, a coordinated effort from various central and state government agencies, non-governmental and social service organizations, academic institutions, experts and researchers and other stakeholders for evolving and implementing suitable ground water management strategies in the country will go a long way in sustainable and holistic management of scarce water resources.

To know more about CII’s water initiatives, visit:

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