India: The unseen groundwater crisis

India’s water management is in a pickle. Centuries of political mismanagement, uninterested state and municipal governments; a steadily rising population that will hit an estimated 1.7 billion by 2050; and a burgeoning middle-class demanding a preferred protein-rich diet all need considerable water.

The icing on the figurative cake is the lack of any genuine and maintained bids at any governmental level to manage water quality and quantity used; no extant rules and regulations are carried out; and the dismal adaptation rate of state-of-the-art cost-effective water technologies are just some of the reasons behind the water issues in the Indian states, and why the problems are likely to be exacerbated instead of improved.

In spite of all this, there are no hints of policymakers or politicians on the national level coming to grips with the speedy decline of the water issue in the country. Any policies thrown in to help the situation are often incorrectly carried out and insensible.

Politicians who come into power often seek fast but short-lived solutions in the space of the election cycles. But party pre-eminence hardly matters; the product has been the constant degeneration of the nation’s water supply.

India is presently confronted with a water issue much, much worse than what previous generations have ever come up against. Entire bodies of water within and without populated areas are polluted with both hazardous and organic contaminants, and disputes between neighbouring states over water distribution are becoming increasingly tense.

Not one metropolis in the nation can offer potable water that can be drunk straight from the tap, and there are no signs of improvement in sight.

But while the quality of the surface water is bad, the groundwater problems are even worse. Overseeing of surface water quality is mediocre, but auditing of the groundwater quality is downright ghastly.

Groundwater exploitation has been on the rise and has become more and more unsustainable over the past half century. Thus, groundwater levels are consistently diminishing across the country; and in some areas, the levels are dropping by more than a meter a year.

With little to no proper wastewater treatment for the water used industriously, domestically and for mining, the groundwater is steadily being polluted by contaminants both known and unknown, increasing the level of health risks for both ecosystems and humans.

It is certainly no coincidence that the locations with the highest number of protests recorded are in Gujarat, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, and Tamil Nadu. It is in these regions that the grounder subterranean aquifers are overstressed thanks to the years of over-exploitation and poor water management.

Over the last thirty years, the number of private boreholes in farms exploded due to the dearth of trustworthy irrigation, and the issue was aggravated by the free electricity offered for pumping the water. Groundwater use rose from 58 per cent in 2004 to a whopping 62 per cent in 2011, and there are no signs of the rate falling off.

The best way to go about creating policies for groundwater exploitation is to have dependable data and information on groundwater availability, usage, as well as quality. Unfortunately, groundwater is underground and effectively imperceptible.

Groundwater over-exploitation will likely persist over the medium term. Presently, this lack of water has already advanced the severe environmental, political, economic, and social issues plaguing the nation. The increasing interstate water disputes is just one example of many.

The crumbling groundwater administration is not a new obstacle for policymakers. Since the Green Revolution in the 1960s, groundwater exploitation in India has only risen.

Sadly, data and information on groundwater available, usage, and quality are not consistent and not dependable. The best educated guess is that India is currently using 230 to 250km³ per year, about a quarter of groundwater used around the world. With groundwater being used for around 85 per cent for domestic tasks and upwards of 60 per cent for agriculture, India is now consuming more groundwater than the United States of America (USA) and China combined.

The sudden explosion of groundwater utilisation can be traced back to government policies from the 1970s. Then, external donors made free electricity for farmers a condition in return for loans to kick-start numerous agricultural development programmes in order to quickly increase food production levels. While the benefits were quickly realised in the short-term, the long-term costs are the heavy financial losses multiple State Electricity Boards are suffering due to the free electricity for farmers, and the severe groundwater deficiency.

Official assessments released by the Indian Ministry of Water Resources reported that in 2004, 29 per cent of groundwater subterranean aquifers were in semi-critical, critical, or over-exploited, and that the issue was fast degenerating. More recently in 2014, the Central Groundwater Board assessed that the number of overexploited groundwater tanks had risen from three per cent in 1995 to 15 per cent in 2011.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) reported in 2009 that the Indus Basin was one of the most overstressed aquifers globally. This basin covers the states of Haryana and Punjab, India’s breadbaskets. The study concluded that the groundwater reduction rates is an estimated one metre per three years – a 20 per cent increment from the report made earlier by the Indian Water Ministry – and highlights the severity of India’s water issues.

Rising groundwater extrications come along with huge water quality ramifications as well; aquifers located near the coastline are particularly indisposed to seawater contamination. Additionally, there are other health risks thanks to the geogenic pollution, such as arsenic poisoning. Already, these problems have arisen in some states.

There will be grievous detrimental ramifications for India’s environmental, energy, food, health and water sectors if measures are not taken urgently to manage groundwater use. Almost 50 per cent of jobs in India are in the agricultural industry, but if the nation continues overexploiting water as it is now, by 2030, about 60 percent of aquifers in India will be in precarious circumstances.

Up 25 per cent of production in the agricultural industry will be in jeopardy, and India’s current employment woes would only be exacerbated.

Unless India can reform and upgrade its current water management, interstate rivalries will unfold, and this will be a perilous situation for the most populated country on the globe.

Source: Eco-Business