Groundwater management was neglected for a long time due to the apparent abundance of the resource. With population and economic growth and the technological options to abstract groundwater at reasonable prices from ever-greater depths, the need to actively manage the resource has become clear. This is especially the case in developing countries where the poorer segments of rural society do not have other livelihood options available, should they lose access to their safe water source, both regarding production and drinking water supply.
This chapter argues that institutional frameworks for groundwater management need to comprise a range of instruments to manage the resource. Contrary to a mechanistic belief, however, the need to fully integrate the human dimension is highlighted. Thus, the creation of incentives through the introduction of groundwater use rights, direct and indirect pricing, or water trading is an important step. However, the horizontal dimension of groundwater use makes it hard to fully control the application of such instruments unless a given aquifer has very few users and the responsible authority, a very clear mandate and sufficient capacity. In most cases, the users themselves are the most important stakeholders in devising groundwater management schemes as well as in devising and choosing the most applicable instruments.
As countries move towards actively managing their groundwater resources, their approaches are taking this interplay into account. Some countries rely more strongly on formal institutional arrangements such as regulations and official monitoring and sanctioning mechanisms; others try to combine both formal arrangements and informal water user agreements; and still others focus primarily on water users in order to deal with their specific groundwater management challenges. The choice of these approaches is related not only to the institutional strengths in the individual countries but also to the type of hydrogeological regime and population and economic profile they have to deal with.
While there are very few success stories as yet - and these are essentially in developed countries - increasing groundwater scarcity and pollution are providing an impulse for central and local governments worldwide to introduce groundwater management frameworks and instruments, adapted to their needs. The toolbox for groundwater management already exists. Now the political will needs to be developed in order to bring about - or intensify - change. This will imply reviews of existing groundwater management structures, the costs that current institutional arrangements have for specific groups in the medium and long terms as well as the costs to society at large. This information needs to be made available to decision makers to provide an impetus for the use and further development of existing groundwater management tools.
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