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Parts of India face groundwater drought as summer heat rises

“Many of these states are now intermittently getting affected by the ‘groundwater drought’ in recent summers,” said Abhijit Mukherjee, lead researcher and a professor at IIT Kharagpur.

, ET Bureau|
Jun 17, 2019, 06.46 AM IST
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Earlier works by the government agencies have only been able to estimate the total groundwater, only a part of which is usable for human purposes.
New Delhi:As the mercury beats its own record, inching towards 50 degrees Celsius this summer, states like Assam, Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and West Bengal are intermittently getting affected by ‘groundwater drought’, partly due to increased agricultural food productions.

And the burden on usable groundwater storage (UGWS) in the country is only going to worsen by next summer, especially in Indo-Gangetic plains and Brahmaputra belt, leading to drought like conditions by 2050, according to a recent study by researchers of Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Kharagpur in collaboration with Central Ground Water Board under the water resources ministry and National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) of the US.

“Many of these states are now intermittently getting affected by the ‘groundwater drought’ in recent summers,” said Abhijit Mukherjee, lead researcher and a professor at IIT Kharagpur.

“Our prediction suggests these summer groundwater droughts will intensify in recent future years, to become severe to very severe by 2050, with the possibility of spread over all seasons.”

liquidity


One silver lining is that UGWS level has improved in certain states like Madhya Pradesh due to projects under the national employment guarantee scheme, Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA), said the study, ‘Estimates of Total Underground Water Storage in Various Parts of India’, completed this year.

“We can call it the impact of MGNREGA programme in certain places in India where usable groundwater has actually gone up,” Mukherjee said. But it’s an ugly picture in most of the country.

According to the study, which used satellite data from NASA in collaboration with Athabasca University, Canada, said UGWS level should be 10 metres from the ground surface but has fallen to 60 metres in Haryana and Punjab. By next year it may fall further by 3-5 metres, it said.

In certain places in Uttar Pradesh, the UGWS level should ideally start from 10 metres but is available only from 20 metres, and it is going to worsen over this summer with levels going further down to 22 metre in a year’s time.

Usable groundwater storage can be defined as the absolute availability of groundwater within the subsurface groundwater storage units. The ideal UGWS level varies from state to state. Percentage change of UGWS in the whole of India between 2005 and 2013 has been -0.11% per annum. “India is about to lose (1.5% of UGWS) or about 600 km3 (cubic kilometre) of groundwater by 2020 and would be left with about 37,300 km3,” Mukherjee said.

By 2050, the country is likely to lose another 3% of UGW i.e. about 1100 km3 (cubic kilometre) of UGWS.

These depletion trends and practices have not only affected the groundwater storage but also declined the flow in the adjoining rivers, including Ganga, leading to its summer drying in recent years, Mukherjee said.

Earlier works by the government agencies have only been able to estimate the total groundwater, only a part of which is usable for human purposes.

IIT Kharagpur had also conducted a study on total groundwater storage, where again it had discovered the water level increasing in certain states due to irrigation projects undertaken under MGNREGA.

Based on the IIT study, the current state of usable groundwater varies from a range of 520 cm (289.5 km3) in Himachal Pradesh to 2,663 cm (2,088.8 km3) in Assam.

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