Multiple red flags over groundwater exploitation hotspots in India’s north

The study, which appeared in One Earth journal, claimed North India region lost around 472 km3 of groundwater out of a total 498 km3 during the two-decade period of 2002-2022.
Representational image
Representational image

BHUBANESWAR:  A new study by a team of South Korea-based geographers that revealed drift in the earth’s rotational axis due to excessive pumping of groundwater, has turned the spotlight on fast depleting water table in India. The study published in the journal, Geophysical Research Letters, indicated north-western India as one of the regions where humans have pumped large volumes of groundwater.

In one of the latest studies, researchers at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Gandhinagar also found North India to be a global groundwater depletion hotspot that has accounted for nearly 95% of the country's groundwater loss.

The study, which appeared in One Earth journal, claimed North India region lost around 472 km3 of groundwater out of a total 498 km3 during the two-decade period of 2002-2022.  It also pointed at a grave issue —increased rainfall may not help recover the depletion that has already taken place. “Groundwater loss is driven by excessive pumping from non-renewable groundwater storage and will continue to dominate in the near future despite projected increases in rainfall,” the study said. It projected that the highest recovery of groundwater estimated for the period 2021–2040 may only be half of the total groundwater loss.

While the study pointed out that excessive groundwater pumping for irrigation will be a persisting critical issue for future, it could lead to water scarcity in different regions. This will pose challenges to climate change adaptation and impact food and water security. Associate professor in the School of Earth, Ocean and Climate Sciences at IIT Bhubaneswar Sandeep Pattnaik said multiple studies have shown intense groundwater depletion over North West India, including parts of Punjab, Haryana, and Rajasthan.

“This may be due to intensive agriculture, excessive pumping and unregulated over-exploitation of aquifers over the region and reduction in natural recharge processes leading to steady decline of water level. These will have had extensive and long term impact in terms of sustaining agriculture, groundwater quality and disruptions of ecological balance,” Patnaik said.

Information furnished by the Ministry of Jal Shakti in Parliament suggests that at least 38.9% of analysed wells across the country have shown a fall in groundwater level. Minister of State for Jal Shakti Bisweswar Tudu, in response to a question on February 9, informed Parliament that the Central Ground Water Board (CGWB) has not conducted any specific study on the reasons and consequential effects of decrease in groundwater level.

He, however, stated that groundwater level in some parts of the country have appeared to decline mainly because of continuous withdrawal due to increased demand for freshwater, vagaries of rainfall, increased population, industrialisation and urbanisation among others.

The big dip
At least 38.9% of analysed wells across the country have shown a fall in groundwater level. A look at the situation in different states.

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