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3 Maps Explain India’s Growing Water Risks

India is one of the most water-challenged countries in the world, from its deepest aquifers to its largest rivers.

Groundwater levels are falling as India’s farmers, city residents and industries drain wells and aquifers. What water is available is often severely polluted. And the future may only be worse, with the national supply predicted to fall 50 percent below demand by 2030.

Enter the India Water Tool 2. 0. The new web platform is the most comprehensive, publicly available online tool evaluating India’s water risks. Created by a group of companies, research organizations, and industry associations—including WRI and coordinated by the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD)—the tool can help companies, government agencies, and other water users identify their most pressing challenges and carefully target water-risk management efforts.

The tool illustrates the depth and breadth of India’s water-related challenges. A few trends emerge:

54 Percent of India Faces High to Extremely High Water Stress

The map below illustrates competition between companies, farms and people for surface water in rivers, lakes, streams, and shallow groundwater. Red and dark-red areas are highly or extremely highly stressed, meaning that more than 40 percent of the annually available surface water is used every year.

With 54 percent of India’s total area facing high to extremely high stress, almost 600 million people are at higher risk of surface-water supply disruptions.

Note, in particular, the extremely high stress area blanketing Northwest India. The region is India’s breadbasket. The states of Punjab and Haryana alone produce 50 percent of the national government’s rice supply and 85 percent of its wheat stocks. Both crops are highly water intensive.

54 Percent of India’s Groundwater Wells Are Decreasing

Groundwater levels are declining across India. Of the 4,000 wells captured in the IWT 2.0 showing statistically significant trends, 54 percent dropped over the past seven years, with 16 percent declining by more than 1 meter (3.2 feet) per year.

Farmers in arid areas, or areas with irregular rainfall, depend heavily on groundwater for irrigation. The Indian government subsidizes the farmers’ electric pumps and places no limits on the volumes of groundwater they extract, creating a widespread pattern of excessive water use and strained electrical grids.

Northwestern India again stands out as highly vulnerable. Of the 550 wells studied in the region, 58 percent have declining groundwater levels.

More than 100 Million People Live in Areas of Poor Water Quality

The IWT 2.0 measures water quality with an Indian-government standard called Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) limits. Surface and groundwater are both below par in many areas.

Among the IWT’s 632 groundwater quality districts, only 59 are above BIS limits. Whenever a particular pollutant concentration exceeds BIS limits, drinking water is considered unsafe. The yellow and red areas below indicate places where chlorine, fluoride, iron, arsenic, nitrate, and/or electrical conductivity exceed national standards.

These districts are also extremely populous. 130,600,000 people live in districts where at least one pollutant exceeded national safety standards in 2011. And more than 20 million people lived in the eight districts where at least three pollutants exceeded safe limits. Bagalkot, Karnataka, is the most polluted, with five of six groundwater quality indicators at unsafe levels. Only arsenic falls below the government-recommended concentration level.

Proactive, Innovative Management Is Critical—and the Tool Can Help

The India Water Tool was specifically designed to help companies, government agencies, civil society organizations, and other stakeholders assess water risks, a critical first step toward reversing the damage already done to India’s water supplies and protecting against chronic struggles.

Users can upload or enter hundreds of GPS-based locations into the easy-to-use interface. For each location, the tool will produce values quantifying water stress, groundwater depletion, current and projected groundwater availability, water quality, rainfall and more. The tool can also create a map showing all the uploaded locations, which can either be kept private if the information is sensitive or exported as a communications product or as a visual for a corporate disclosure initiative. For example, India’s state and national governments could use the tool to understand threats to surface and groundwater water security, and therefore support long-term development planning and conservation planning.

Tools like the India Water Tool may only be a first step in a long process of risk reduction and mitigation, but they are an essential one. Only with ongoing efforts to improve data transparency and accessibility can India advance toward a sustainable water future.

To use the India Water Tool, visit


Perhaps a change in diet away from rice and wheat would help, or at least import all of the rice and wheat people need from somewhere where the water is not yet at risk.

They have massive grain and perishable crop losses after harvest approaching close to 50%. There needs to a massive investment into infrastructure to reduce this wastage.

While that does sound like a good solution, that would completely destroy the agriculture industry in India which is by far the biggest. It is also a bit unfeasible to ask over a billion people to simply change their diet. It would also cost a whole lot more to import all the rice and wheat as India would probably require it in exorbitant amounts, not to mention the impracticality of this idea. Maybe they could just focus on water conservation techniques, what with the rate of industrialisation in the country.

Water risks should be reviewed from water resource security, water environmental security, water ecological security and water relationships security and other important aspects. Now and in the next decade, China is facing lot of challenges in water security, even more serious than India. So, developing nations will pay more and more attention to water security problems in their industrialization and urbanization process. The developed nations can transfer their successful experiences and models in water management to developing nations.

We have not learnt lessons from our past mistakes. our greedy people and politicians are into destroying the very fragile ecosystem in the guise of development. If the government stops all works in the fragile region and instead try to improve services and reduce losses through vigilant approach, we may see a change in the water crisis.

Waste water treatment and recycling are key to ensure future water security in India

Stress on groundwater can only be relieved if we manage groundwater provinces specially in Agriculture and through audit process in industrial uses as well. Agriculture water management with technology and farmers participation is possible but is very costly and rewarding at the same time. It also needs a wide spread people awareness and strong political will. In India most of policy decision are taken and implemented under pressure of political compulsions and final end product of such approach is the current scene of groundwater and aquifer conditions through out country without any exceptions. So in our opinion demand management in agriculture with inputs of technology and market combine with full peoples participation is must to come out of this looming crisis.

In the context of India's present GW situation and in coming years, the aggregate impact of millions of individual pumping decisions, and of emerging groundwater problems, no single template for management can be developed, because, the hydrogeological, social, economic, cultural and political factors can vary greatly at local or regional scales.
The two generally acceptable GW management approaches are: (i) Optimal yield, which allows for the deliberate short-term controlled use of storage between recharge events, and (ii) Controlled over exploitation, which recognize that some permanent depletion in storage may be necessary to promote socioeconomic development where recharge is very limited, whilst for example, water conservation measures like rainwater harvesting are introduced. Desalination and recharging the aquifers with surplus water can partly address water problem. I think on a pilot scale operation, desalination may be economically costly. On the other hand, recharging aquifers with surplus water in a very high population density area can perhaps meet very small amount of the total water requirement. Moreover, the GW and surface runoff in most of the places is highly polluted.

The management options of GW in urban areas are generally based on the patterns of groundwater use, and the responsibility remains largely with municipal supply utilities, as well as with individuals. While, rural users generally abstract GW through wells that they own and control. However, large-scale, publicly funded tubewell development tend to be supply driven; legal and regulatory provisions at national level cannot be policed adequately; and, enhancement of indirect recharge may work for shallow groundwater circulation, but recovery of deeper systems requires sophisticated injection and alternative sources of high-quality water. Sustainability of long-term water use is compatible with limited depletion of aquifer reserves only in the short term. It is necessary to recognize these inextricable linkages, especially aggressive to depletion and degradation.

From my experience, two broad types of management approaches for groundwater emerge:
(i) approaches encompassing tools such as power pricing, subsidies for efficient technologies, economic policies that discourage water intensive crops, etc. and (ii) approaches dealing with specific aquifers on the basis of command and control management through a resource regulator. The future challenge is to decide how much water should be utilized directly for people for domestic use, agriculture and industry and how much to maintain ecosystem. It is therefore necessary to quantify the costs and benefits of allocating water for different use, adapt and improve water productivity, through improvements in crop yields, irrigation efficiency and post-harvest processing. To restrict wasteful use, economic principles could be applied to the allocation of water. For effectiveness, development effort must have the competent, capable and transparent institutions. Corrupt and unscrupulous practices, working hand-in-hand with investors, should not put self- interests, self-benefits, greediness and private gain before the welfare of citizens and the economic development. Strong anti-corruption rules and regulation have to be strictly enforced.

Instead of criticizing the situation, the large gap between the politicians/sceintists/engineers and farmers/general public needs to be bridged to have better solutions and implement them bringing in capacity building and awareness creation. I made some efforts in this direction during the last four decades conducting extensive field investigations for assessment of groundwater recharge, development potential and vulnerability to over-exploitation & pollution in fourteen river basins in India, with effective participation, involvement, and cooperation of farmers and village community, and extensive use of the technology and recharge estimates by the different States Agencies to develop policy guidelines on GW protection from depletion & pollution. I also provided advisory services for Outreach Field Initiative on water conservation, and for Mountain Watershed natural resources management and rainwater harvesting, with village community participation by education & health awareness, and Pilot Level Technical Survey. These increased women’s empowerment, who are the backbone to ensure water availability at the household level. Mere crating infrasturctures and developing policy guidelines are not enough. More such efforts need to be made and ensured that the infrastuctures are maintained and policy guidelines are strictly enforced..

We should develop rain water harvesting and to be minimize the wastage of water.

India facing water crisis which is only going to get worse. we should preserve our traditional methods, one of which is Rain water harvesting( johads-traditional) which shouldnot be treated as a new method.

It should be made compulsory throughout India that all residential houses should have rain water harvesting devices. Those who do not have, must be imposed a heavy fine,in the form of additional taxes.

Need to look into rain harvest & recycling of waste water .
Can learn more to get ocean water treatment for usable supply as India has vast area of Ocean front .

Various N G O s should come forward to create awareness in this regard and management of water scarcity should be included compulsorily in the syllabus of education. The awareness and education in this regard should be given from the very primary level.

While India has been facing physical water scarcity due to over exploitation of GW resources, the people of Bangladesh has been facing tremendous challenges for managing hydroclimatic disasters hits the country every year during pre-monsoon, monsoon and post-monsoon seasons. Scientific analysis says that most of the Asian countries are now facing water security not because of physical water scarcity, but due to socio-economic water security which blames human society as a whole for mismanagement. Scientific study also says that with the present available knowledge and technologies, it is possible to ensure water security for Asia. So, where is the problem? The concept of IWRM has been evolve long ago by the water scientists, but still it is in demonstration based or in the documentary films to show the donor in most of the developing states. In my belief IWRM would be last options for water security in every scale where regional collaboration must be recognized by the Asian nations. A research question, is it possible to apply the concept of IWRM without governance in the human society? Surely no ! but this is most most and most challenging issue for Asian Countries !

The lack of sound water management policy is the root cause of looming water crisis in India.The first and foremost requirement of water management policy is to evaluate actual consumption of fresh water by different stake holders and production of polluted water in the backdrop of spatial and temporal availability of both surface and subsurface water. Wastage of fresh water in irrigation sector and urban areas should also be taken into account. Compilation of district wise water footprints of foods, industrial products and services consumed by the individual and business on the basis of UNESCO-IHE document of 2002 will be of much help to allocate water in different sectors and resolve water conflict among different stakeholders.
Agricultural sector is the main consumer of fresh water. So demand-side management of fresh water needs reform in agriculture sector through change in farming practice and crop pattern as well as optimization of irrigation.
The present practice of monocroping industrial agriculture requires maximum quantity of fresh water and pollutes (agro-chemical pollutants) water over a vast area. Deep ploughing reduces soil organic content and creates demand for more fertilizer i.e, high capital intensive. Shifting focus on polycroping agro ecological farming will keep the soil covered by mulching and increase its organic carbon content there by increasing water holding capacity. Soil scientist report for every 1 percent of organic matter content, the soil can held 16,500 gallons of plant-available water. It will reduce requirement of irrigation water along with the source of chemical pollution generated by extensive use of fertilizer, insecticide, herbicide etc in industrial farming. Moreover water logging and salination of soil as well as depletion of ground water table due to over irrigation as observed in many areas of Indo-Gangetic plain could also be checked.

Hydrocentric management in changing crop pattern suitable to different agroclimate zone negotiating pressure of big farmer’s lobby should be started immediately. Cultivation of water guzzling crops like sugarcane and rice in water scarce areas and spending public money to bring fresh water from far away source to meet its irrigation requirement is the most irrational example of water management. Recent example of spirit of cooperation of small farmers of Dhavadshri village of Satara in Maharashtra is worth following. They shifted to cultivation of spices from traditional water guzzling sugarcane after interlinking their wells and implementing rainwater harvesting to raise groundwater level without any outside help. This type of spirit of cooperation saved them from ruin and also led the educated village youth back to farming.
The supply side management includes : (1)reduction of grey water footprint by recycling of waste water from point source of industries and urban housing complexes and reducing pollution in surface and subsurface water through joint project of govt. utilities and communities living along the water source. (2) encouraging people to participate in large scale water harvesting and soil conservation measures by enacting law for community ownership of groundwater resource.

i feel scarcity is increasing day by day govt should take much more strong steps for as to over come this problem

Decadal changes in ground water quality is serious point tobe noted, observed many places are increasing Nitrate pollution(Anthrophogenic) drastically.... still we should know what is going to happen, it is not only Blue Baby Sindrome, some more problems are leading.

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