The subject ‘water conservation’ is usually spoken around oceans, rivers, lakes and dams. And often, very little is talked about ‘Groundwater’. But this unsung hero plays a very huge role in environmental conservation. Global water scarcity is a serious concern and groundwater cannot be ignored.
Water beneath the ground in the saturated zone that gets accumulated during rainfall and snowmelt is one of the largest sources of usable water. Groundwater is said to be an indispensable natural resource. This water is stored in aquifers, which are bodies of permeable rock which can contain or transmit groundwater. It is present everywhere. Only quantity differs from place to place. In rainfall-prone areas, it is found abundantly whereas it is minutely present in dry areas. It is often said to have very good quality. As it is preserved much beneath the surface, it is subject to a less likelihood of contamination. So many people, especially in rural areas rely on groundwater for drinking and other purposes. In some cases, 90% of populations in rural areas are dependent on groundwater. According to studies, out of the total global water withdrawals, groundwater forms 33%. The water beneath the surface represents 30% of the world’s fresh water. The rest is frozen in ice caps and glaciers. According to IGRAC (International Groundwater Resources Assessment Centre), Asia is home to two-thirds of the world’s groundwater.
Groundwater is also vital for a country’s economy. In India, where agriculture is the backbone, groundwater is a major source of irrigation. Agriculture is completely dependent on rainfall. Due to climate change, monsoon disruptions occur frequently and rainfall is no longer a reliable source. The rainy season too, which is a hope for farmers, does not guarantee good rainfall these days. Lower yields due to rainfall deficiency further other consequences like famines and increased suicide rates amongst farmers. However, when all the wells and rivers dry out, the only hope that farmers are left with is groundwater. Groundwater could be the ultimate resort for the agricultural industry in such a situation. It can be extracted to water crops without affecting the produce. It prevents crops, plants and trees from drying out. It is also a necessity to turn to this resource in order to meet the food demands of the population. It is estimated that groundwater accounts for 43% of the total irrigation water needs.
Sometimes, groundwater is also discharged into rivers in order to maintain the water levels and help the rivers continue to flow. It can be observed that the use of groundwater is dominant where the availability of surface water is reduced. It acts as an emergency water source in many places.
It is also an important source of drinking water, in both urban and rural areas. It is a drinking source for 50% of the population in the USA. As stated above, some areas heavily rely on groundwater. For instance, around 16 million people in the Rio Grande region, between Southern Texas and Mexico depend on this resource.
The best part about groundwater is that it replenishes on its own. However, growing threats of dwindling groundwater do not make it a viable resource. The usage and benefits of groundwater have expanded in the past few decades. This has resulted in positive as well as negative outcomes. The growing population is one such parameter for judging the outcome. With the population increasing day by day, the demand for water is also increasing considerably. The increased demand with unmatched supply leads to non-fulfilment of water-related needs of humans. The needs could be household, agricultural or industrial. Water is a basic necessity that drives many activities and increased demands coupled with over-reliance on groundwater lead to unmet needs.
The dropping of water levels under the surface due to rising temperatures is concerning. Climate change affects even underground water reservoirs. Even if in comparison to surface water, it is more resilient to the consequences of climate change, it is not completely climate effect-proof. The distressing issue along with over-usage has given rise to the problem of groundwater depletion. According to CGWB (Central Ground Water Board), 25% of India’s total groundwater extraction is unsustainable. Groundwater can also no longer be termed as an uncontaminated source. Urbanisation has led to groundwater pollution through sewage lines, landfills, gas leakages etc.
Water is a basic human need on one hand and a precious asset on the other hand. It will also not be wrong to say that it runs the environment by maintaining a healthy ecosystem. Conservation of groundwater is thus essential for water availability and helps us deal with water shortages. We all should thus act considerately to tackle climate change and prevent a freshwater crisis.
You can learn more about the importance of groundwater and other aspects of environmental conservation through an accredited ESG Expert Certification from Directors’ Institute.