Groundwater management: steps towards a sustainable future

By Alfred Gilbert

Thu, 9 Mar 2017

The agricultural sector is the largest and, presently, one of the least efficient users of water. Irrigated agricultural practices account for roughly 70% of global water usage, and over 40% in many OECD countries. The relationship between contemporary farming and water is, therefore, one of reliance. Without water, farms will simply not be able to operate at current levels of productive efficiency and economic success.

This reliance and consequent vulnerability to water-loss also needs to be considered in relation to climate change. Projections indicate that climate change will cause greater numbers and intensity of extreme weather events, such as drought and floods. Models also predict that there will be increased fluctuations in precipitation, decreasing the stability and reliability of surface-water supplies. When combined with the pressures of population growth, it is clear that farms will need to adapt to operating with decreased water resources.

A recent trend in line with the search for reliable water sources has taken the agricultural sector underground. The last 20-40 years have witnessed a massive boost in the use of ground-water resources for irrigation across the globe.  Irrigated agriculture is the largest extractor and consumer of groundwater, with large groundwater dependent agroeconomies developing in many countries.

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