Agricultural water use in highly populated regions

There is evidence from the North China Plain, where the growth of small towns that are reliant on groundwater for their populations and industries is significant, that the impact on the - rapidly diminishing - groundwater source is large (Foster et al., 2004a). In such situations a groundwater management strategy needs to take into account both agricultural and urban uses. Similarly, interaction between surface water and groundwater needs to be taken into account (e.g. the Rio Grande in New Mexico) in providing new permits for surface water abstractions since there will be impacts on groundwater abstractors.

Nevertheless, an important issue in this regard is the recurring assertion that since surface and groundwaters are hydrologically connected, aquifers cannot be managed in isolation. This argument is relatively weak, however, given that in many cases surface waters are managed - if at all - without ever taking into account the connected groundwater resources. Thus, while the principle to apply a conjunctive management approach is desirable, nowadays many aquifers are under such pressure that pragmatism would dictate tackling them directly, without neglecting basic principles of integrated groundwater management as identified in the course of time (Kemper and Alvarado, 2001; Foster et al., 2004b). Thus, in cases in which the hydrological connection to surface water resources is very significant, conjunctive use could and should appropriately be taken into account - such as in New Mexico, USA (DuMars and Minier, 2004) - but the pros and cons of doing so need to be carefully assessed.

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