Monday, August 10, 2015

Understanding Aquifers For Sustainable Groundwater Management

This essay  (open access) is a timely reminder from Rajiv Sinha from IIT Kanpur on the role basic geology plays in sustainable groundwater management plans.

He gives the example of the Haryana and Punjab plains where recent decades has seen large amounts of groundwater withdrawal, so large that it can be captured by satellite borne instruments measuring  changes in the earth's gravity field.  Aquifers in this region occur mostly in bodies of sand of Pleistocene and Holocene age. These sands are remnants of river channels which have built large alluvial fans, aprons of sand and finer sediments in front of the Himalayan foothills. They form lenticular bodies surrounded by finer sediment which may not be prolific aquifers. Understanding this spatial heterogeneity of aquifers is crucial for coming up with a workable aquifer management plan.

He recommends the following -

1) Replace state boundaries with aquifer boundaries
2) Integrate all available groundwater data from the Central Groundwater Board (CGWB) and State Groundwater Boards into an integrated database for water-level characterization
3) Update the ways in which subsurface aquifer data are combined and analysed
4) Registration of all tube well locations
5) Update training for subsurface aquifer analysis and characterization

Besides basic sedimentological and stratigraphic studies to delineate aquifer boundaries, Sinha makes another extremely important  point. Data needs to be shared by institutions, and research findings made by Universities and other Research Institutes need to be translated into effective management plans by the respective State Groundwater Boards (groundwater comes under State control in India). This means a culture of strong institutional  linkages  and of transparency and openness needs to evolve. This has been India's stumbling block in the past. I have witnessed enough frustration expressed by some of my groundwater researcher friends here in the Deccan Basalts that their research has long been ignored by State Groundwater Agencies. This does remain a challenge, but hopefully new groundwater policies recommended by the Center and realized by the State Governments via their Groundwater Agencies (example: see this interview on Maharashtra Groundwater Act and for links to the Act. ) will provide new impetus for research and collaboration in understanding aquifers as a crucial component of sustainable groundwater management plans.

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