Recommendations for groundwater policy

Groundwater basics

Groundwater is the water below the surface of the earth that occurs in soil pores and in cracks and fissures in rocks. Typically, groundwater is liquid flowing water but the definition also includes soil moisture, perma-frost (frozen soil) and water trapped in very low permeability bed rocks. A unit of rock containing a usable amount of water is termed as an aquifer. Groundwater is refurbished from the surface and eventually flows back to the surface in the form of springs or oases. The existence of sub-surface groundwater is not just limited to our planet. There is evidence of its existence on other planets and moons.

When water from the surface can flow directly into an aquifer, it is called an unconfined aquifer. Unconfined aquifers are more concentrated towards the bottom because of gravity. The top level of the aquifer below which water is concentrated in pores is called the water table or the pheratic surface. The layers which contain water in pores are collectively called the pheratic zone.

Due to the high heat capacity of water and the insulating effects of sand and rock, groundwater temperature is not affected much by climatic changes.

Groundwater behavior in the Indian sub-continent is highly complicated due to various geological and climatic conditions. Broadly 2 groups of rock formations have been observed in India:

1. Porous formations

  • Unconsolidated formations: Areas covered by alluvial sediments of river basins, coastal and deltaic tracts constitute the unconsolidated formations. They are mainly found in the Indo-Ganga-Brahmaputra basin and this region is characterized by heavy rainfall and porous soil which result in aquifers containing copious amounts of groundwater.
  • Semi-consolidated formations: These are formations which occur in narrow valleys or structurally faulted basins. Sometimes these formations result in free flowing wells. These wells are extremely common in the Gondwanas region of North-Eastern India

2. Fissured Formations (Consolidated Formations): These formations occupy 2/3rd of the area of the country. They contain rocks with negligible porosity.

  • Igneous and metamorphic rocks – These attain porosity due to fracturing and weathering and their yield depends on the extent of metamorphosis
  • Volcanic rocks – They occur mainly in the Deccan Plateau. The varying water bearing properties of flow units cause groundwater occurrence. Eg. Deccan Traps. They have low to medium porosity depending on presence of rock fractures.
  • Consolidated sedimentary rocks – They occur in Cuddapahs and Vindhyans and their equivalents. The presence of bedding planes, joins, contact zones and fractures control groundwater yield.
  • Carbonate rocks – Limestones in the Cuddapah, Vindhyan and Bijawar region dominate this category. Water circulation in these rocks dissolves the limestone and further increases permeability of the aquifers.

Groundwater scenario in India

Currently, there is a network 15,460 wells spread across India which is monitored throughout in the months of January, April/May, August & November every year. These wells provide an indication of groundwater levels and quality across the country. The data collected from these wells is directly used as an input to the groundwater development and management programme.

The table below depicts groundwater level of the major regions of the country when measured at different times

Depth of Groundwater

Depth (in mbgl)

Region

May-09

Aug-09

Nov-09

Jan-10

Sub-Himalayan Region

2 - 10

0 - 5

2 - 5

2 - 5

Brahmaputra Valley

2 - 5

< 2

2 - 5

2 - 5

--Upper Assam

5 - 10

5 - 10

2 - 5

2 - 5

Indus Basin

5 - 20

5 - 20

10 - 20

10 - 20

Western India

 

 

 

 

--Central & Northern Gujarat, Some parts of Rajasthan

20 - >40

20 - >40

10 - 20

10 - 20

--Rest of Gujarat & Rajasthan

10 - 20

10 - 20

10 - 20

10 - 20

--Punjab & Harayana

10 - 40

20 - >40

10 - 20

10 - 20

--Maharashtra

5 - 10

2 - 5

10 - 20

< 10

--Western Maharashtra

< 5

< 2

< 10

< 2

East Coast

 

 

 

 

--Coastal AP

2 - 5

5 - 10

2 - 5

2 - 5

--Coastal TN

2 - 5

5 - 10

2 - 5

< 2

--Orissa

2 - 5

< 2

2 - 5

2 - 5

--Isolated Pockets

> 5

2 - 5

2 - 5

2 - 5

--Eastern WB

5 - 10

5 - 10

5 - 10

5 - 10

Central India

5 - 20

2 - 10

2 - 10

2 - 10

--Isolated Pockets

> 20

> 10

> 10

> 10

Peninsular India

5 - 20

5 - 10

5 - 10

5 - 10

--Isolated Pockets

< 5

> 10

10 - 20

10 - 20

 

In general there is a rise in water levels, post monsoon in most regions of the country.

Statewise per capita availability of groundwater

Due to the varied prevalence of groundwater and the size of the population, different states in India have different per capita availability of groundwater ranging from 1,663.52 m3 in Arunachal Pradesh to 16.71 m3 in Delhi

 

States

Amount of Available Groundwater Annually (in billion cubic metre)

Population 2011 Census

Groundwater per capita (in cubic metre)

Andhra Pradesh

32.95

84,665,533

389.18

Arunachal Pradesh

2.3

1,382,611

            1,663.52

Assam

24.89

31,169,272

               798.54

Bihar

27.42

103,804,630

               264.15

Chhattisgarh

13.68

25,540,196

               535.63

Delhi

0.28

16,753,235

                  16.71

Goa

0.27

1,457,723

               185.22

Gujarat

15.02

60,383,628

               248.74

Haryana

8.63

25,753,081

               335.11

Himachal Pradesh

0.39

6,856,509

                  56.88

Jammu & Kashmir

2.43

12,548,926

               193.64

Jharkhand

5.25

32,966,238

               159.25

Karnataka

15.3

61,130,704

               250.28

Kerala

6.23

33,387,677

               186.60

Madhya Pradesh

35.33

72,597,565

               486.66

Maharashtra

31.21

112,372,972

               277.74

Manipur

0.34

2,721,756

               124.92

Meghalaya

1.04

2,964,007

               350.88

Mizoram

0.04

1,091,014

                  36.66

Nagaland

0.32

1,980,602

               161.57

Orissa

21.01

41,947,358

               500.87

Punjab

21.44

27,704,236

               773.89

Rajasthan

10.38

68,621,012

               151.27

Sikkim

0.08

607,688

               131.65

Tamil Nadu

20.76

72,138,958

               287.78

Tripura

1.97

3,671,032

               536.63

Uttar Pradesh

70.18

199,581,477

               351.64

Uttaranchal

2.1

10,116,752

               207.58

West Bengal

27.46

91,347,736

               300.61

Andaman & Nicobar

0.32

379,944

               842.23

Chandigarh

0.02

1,054,686

                  18.96

Dadra & Nagar Haveli

0.06

342,853

               175.00

Daman & Diu

0.008

 242,911

                  32.93

Lakshadweep

0.004

 64,429

                  62.08

Pondicherry

0.144

 1,244,464

115.71

         

 

Color coding scheme

>270 cubic metres

Between 135 and 270 cubic metres

<135 cubic metres

 

An average human consumes 135 litres of water per day. The breakout is as follows –

Usage

Consumption (in litres)

Bathing

55

Toilet Flushing

30

Washing of clothes

20

Washing the house

10

Washing utensils

10

Cooking

5

Drinking

5

Total

135

 

Statistics reveal that groundwater can satisfy personal consumption of every person in the country in almost all states, except in Delhi, Chandigarh, Mizoram and Daman & Diu.

Crop irrigation & groundwater

Other than personal uses, groundwater is also used for irrigating farmland. Some states in India use groundwater to such an extent that there is a continuous depletion in this resource over time. Below is the table which shows state-wise availability of groundwater for irrigation:

 States

Net Sown Area (in ’000 hectares)

Potential for groundwater irrigation (in ‘000 hectares)

Percentage of land that can be irrigated with groundwater

Andhra Pradesh

10410

3960

38%

Arunachal Pradesh

164

18

11%

Assam

2,734

900

33%

Bihar

5,664

4,947

87%

Chhattisgarh

4,800

Not Available

 

Delhi

29

Not Available

 

Goa

141

29

21%

Gujarat

9,622

2,756

29%

Haryana

3,566

1,462

41%

Himachal Pradesh

550

68

12%

Jammu & Kashmir

748

708

95%

Jharkhand

1,769

Not Available

 

Karnataka

10,031

2,574

26%

Kerala

2,191

879

40%

Madhya Pradesh

14,859

9,732

65%

Maharashtra

17,619

3,652

21%

Manipur

140

369

264%

Meghalaya

230

63

27%

Mizoram

118

5

4%

Nagaland

333

5

2%

Orissa

5,845

4,203

72%

Punjab

4,250

2,917

69%

Rajasthan

16,765

1,778

11%

Sikkim

95

Not Available

 

Tamil Nadu

5,172

2,832

55%

Tripura

280

81

29%

Uttar Pradesh

16,812

16,042

95%

Uttaranchal

793

Not Available

 

West Bengal

5,522

3,318

60%

Andaman & Nicobar

38

Not Available

 

Chandigarh

2

Not Available

 

Dadra & Nagar Haveli

23

Not Available

 

Daman & Diu

4

Not Available

 

Lakshadweep

3

Not Available

 

Pondicherry

24

Not Available

 

 

Possible to Irrigate > 66% of sown land

Possible to irrigate between 33% to 66% of sown land

Possible to irrigate < 33% of sown area

 

Only states like Bihar, Jammu & Kashmir, Manipur, Orissa, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh and Uttaranchal have the potential to irrigate more than 66% of their farmland through groundwater. There is acute deficiency in states like Arunachal Pradesh, Goa, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Rajasthan and Tripura. These states have to find alternative sources of water such as rivers, streams etc.

Problems of over-drafting of groundwater

State

No. of Assessed Units

Safe Drafting*

Semi-Critical Drafting

Critical Drafting

Over-exploited

Andhra Pradesh

1231

62%

14%

6%

18%

Arunachal Pradesh

13

100%

0%

0%

0%

Assam

23

100%

0%

0%

0%

Bihar

515

100%

0%

0%

0%

Chhattisgarh

146

95%

5%

0%

0%

Delhi

9

22%

0%

0%

78%

Goa

11

100%

0%

0%

0%

Gujarat

223

43%

31%

5%

14%

Haryana

113

37%

4%

10%

49%

Himachal Pradesh

5

100%

0%

0%

0%

Jammu & Kashmir

8

100%

0%

0%

0%

Jharkhand

208

100%

0%

0%

0%

Karnataka

175

53%

8%

2%

37%

Kerala

151

67%

20%

10%

3%

Madhya Pradesh

312

85%

6%

2%

8%

Maharashtra

318

90%

7%

0%

2%

Manipur

7

100%

0%

0%

0%

Meghalaya

7

100%

0%

0%

0%

Mizoram

22

100%

0%

0%

0%

Nagaland

7

100%

0%

0%

0%

Orissa

314

98%

0%

0%

0%

Punjab

137

18%

3%

4%

75%

Rajasthan

237

14%

6%

21%

59%

Sikkim

1

100%

0%

0%

0%

Tamil Nadu

385

38%

15%

9%

37%

Tripura

38

100%

0%

0%

0%

Uttar Pradesh

803

83%

11%

2%

5%

Uttaranchal

17

71%

18%

0%

12%

West Bengal

269

86%

14%

0%

0%

Andaman & Nicobar

1

100%

0%

0%

0%

Chandigarh

1

100%

0%

0%

0%

Dadra & Nagar Haveli

1

100%

0%

0%

0%

Daman & Diu

2

0%

50%

0%

50%

Lakshadweep

9

67%

33%

0%

0%

Pondicherry

4

50%

0%

0%

25%

Total

5723

71%

10%

4%

15%

 

*Criticality refers to the stage of groundwater development.

The average groundwater development figure for the country is 58%. Assessment units where groundwater development is more than 100% are referred to as ‘over-exploited’. i.e the usage rate of groundwater is higher than the rate of replenishment. Assessment units which have groundwater development in the range 90-100% are referred to as critical and those which have groundwater development in the range 70 -90 % are referred to as ‘semi-critical’. All states which have assessment units which are semi-critical, critical or over-exploited are colored in red.

Punjab, Uttar Pradesh and Uttaranchal have enough groundwater resources to irrigate more than 66% of farmland but are still over drafting on groundwater.

Recommendations for Public Policy

Groundwater management in India is a very difficult proposition. Local variations in groundwater availability, purity and uses make formation of governing bodies a very cumbersome process. In September 1992, the government of India circulated a “Model Bill to regulate and control the development of Groundwater”. The bill enables the state government to establish a groundwater ‘authority’ and select its chairman and members. It requires its members to have prior experience in dealing with matters relating to groundwater. The authority can designate some areas as water management areas and impose regulation of groundwater use.

Regulation and control can take forms such as issuing permits to sink wells and continuing use of ground water resources. It could enforce the reduction of individual uses and set up measuring mechanisms to monitor usage. The bill also prevents any party except the groundwater authority from approaching the court. In essence, this bill has concentrated all powers relating to groundwater management at the state level with negligible scope for local participation. There is a fundamental flaw in this structure.

There are many issues that need to be resolved before any groundwater authority can effectively function in the interest of the common good. A few are: 

  1. Creation of a rights structure: Groundwater is a very complicated resource. Any individual tapping into an aquifer is tapping into a common resource pool which others can also use. If that is the case, how would you monitor and on what parameters would you decide how much of the resource, each family could use. Also, what uses would be deemed necessary and what uses, inessential. For any authority to be fair it is of utmost importance that there is a clear statement of such rights. It is recommended:
    •  That use for drinking which is a necessity be given higher precedence as compared to any other value-added use such as irrigation
    • That drafting allowed for drinking should take into consideration factors such as other nearby sources of potable water, size of the family etc.
    • That once the use for basic necessities are satisfied, groundwater usage for other purposes should be rationed based on local availability and requirements

2.  Understanding the aquifer structure: It is highly essential to recognize overlying and underlying areas. Heavy usage of groundwater in underlying areas can result in the loss of the resource for the overlying areas. In order to make any rules for groundwater management, it is highly essential to map the structure of the underlying aquifer. It is recommended that:

    •  A monitoring body be set up to periodically check the height of the water table in the locality
    • Necessary data such as purity and availability be collected in order to help in decision-making rules restricting the quantity of water that can be drafted based on the collected data be established

3.  Set up a neutral dispute resolution forum: Disputes can arise over water rights and uses, however robust a right structure has been created. It is therefore necessary to have dispute resolution forums. It is recommended that:

  • Local participation be allowed in such forums as it is the best source of understanding the problem underlying the dispute
  • The government and the local governing authority should learn from these problems and endeavor towards making rules that would expedite resolution on similar cases if they should occur in the future
  • Exchange information between the local groundwater authorities across the country to facilitate cross-learning

4. Recognize revenue generating mechanisms for the authority: History is replete with examples of governing institutions which failed due to a lack of financial resources. Financial resources can be generated by:

  • Creating water markets for individuals to trade in water and collecting taxes on the revenues
  • Central and State government funding
  • Community contributions

5. Create mechanisms for information collection and decimation – The importance of this cannot be overemphasized. For any form of informed decision making, it is essential to have a repository of data that can be easily accessed. For the GroundWater Authority, it is not only data on groundwater, but also on other sources of water that is useful. It is recommended that anybody having regulative power with respect to groundwater have access to the following data: 

Groundwater User Data

    • Groundwwater user locations
    • Groundwater user family size
    • Groundwater user land ownership
    • Groundwater user farmland size
    • Groundwater drafting by use

Local topography

    • Amount of available ground water (estimates)
    • Nature of Rocks
    • Water table variation by season
    • Groundwater recharge sources

 Groundwater quality data

    • Pollutants percentage composition
    • Minerals percentage compositio
    • Bacterial percentage composition

Data on other nearby water sources

    • River water volume by use
    • River water level
    • River water pollution levels
    • Lake water volume by use
    • Lake water levels
    • Lake water pollution levels

 Rainfall data

    • Average annual rainfall
    • Rainfall received this year
    • Rainfall forecasts for next 5 years
    • Rainfall seepage into groundwater

6. Create a hierarchy of water governing bodies connecting all bodies from the local authority to the Central government:

As mentioned earlier, any efforts to regulate groundwater has to be local due to variations in usage, availability and pollution levels. But, these local efforts need to be co-ordinated in order to ensure consistency in regulation as well as to exchange information for learning. For this coordination to happen good management dictates that a hierarchy of leadership be built, that rolls up all the way to the Central Government.

Though local groundwater rules and regulation can vary by region, they would operate under an autonomy and framework dictated by the Central Government. The presence of a structure which grants varying levels of autonomy to local authorities based on some rules and data ensures transparency and fairness.

Conclusion

Groundwater is a scarce resource and needs to be used judiciously. As it is a freely available resource which is extremely easy to tap, overdrafting is causing unsustainable depletion. The problem is more acute in certain states in India. Unsustainable depletion has many negative consequences which can affect topography and future water supply to the region. It is thus essential that we safeguard the resource.

In order to safeguard it, we as citizens need to become more responsible in usage. The Model Bill introduced by the Central Govt. in 1992 has met with roadblocks and difficulties in implementation. This is because of the contradictory nature of the composition of the authoritative body and patterns of groundwater availability. This report explores some of the ways in which public policy could be structured in order to be more effective. Recommendations have been provided wherever necessary.

 

Bibliography

  1. Wikipedia: www.wikipedia.org
  2. Approaches to groundwater management to control or enable by Marcus Moench - http://www.epw.in/system/files/pdf/1994_29/39/Approaches_to_Ground_Water_ManagementTo_Control_or_Enable.pdf
  3. Water data http://cwc.gov.in/main/downloads/Water_Data_Complete_Book_2005.pdf
  4. The Hindu – “How much water does an urban citizen need?” - https://www.thehindu.com/features/homes-and-gardens/how-much-water-does-an-urban-citizen-need/article4393634.ece
  5. On-Farm Land and Water Management, Central Soil Salinity Research Institute: http://cssri.nic.in/onfarm.pdf
  6. GroundWater Scenario of India 2009-10, Central Ground Water Board, Ministry of Water Resources, India:  http://www.cgwb.gov.in/documents/Ground%20Water%20Year%20Book%202009-10.pdf
  7. GroundWater Level Scenario in India (November – 2012), Central Ground Water Board, Ministry of Water Resources, India:  http://cgwb.gov.in/documents/GROUND%20WATER%20LEVEL%20SCENARIO_November-12.pdf

About the Author:

Anup has done B.Tech in Mechanical Engineering and graduated in the year 2007 from the National Institute of Technology, Karnataka. He has worked as an analytics consultant in a leading pure-play analytics firm based in Chicago and helped solve business problems of many Fortune 500 clients. He is currently pursuing my MBA in the Indian School of Business, Hyderabad.

Anup said “Water is a very crucial resource for the development of a country and its people. Industrial contamination and explosion of population in India has resulted in further pressure on the availability of this resource. I volunteered with India Water Portal as it provides me with an opportunity to utilize my skills and make my contribution to society by increasing awareness of the water problems facing our country."

In his work, he has analyzed publicly available data on groundwater levels, availability and usage patterns. Using this analysis, he made recommendations for public policy with the primary goal of ensuring sustainability of groundwater

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