The number of groundwater wells in India has increased from less than 100,000 in 1960 to nearly 12 million in 2006. With clear signs of aquifer depletion and continued erratic rainfall, local communities as well as governments are turning to local water-harvesting and recharge structures on a massive scale. The primary objectives of this groundwater recharge movement are to increase groundwater availability for improved security of domestic supplies and to drought-proof and protect rural livelihood. This situation calls for conjunctive water management in a basin context with recharge of groundwater assuming a pivotal role with a caveat that upstream and downstream impact needs to be considered and accounted for.
As described in this chapter, groundwater recharge has a long history in India and there are a variety of direct, indirect and integrated methods at the disposal of farmers, community leaders, NGOs and the government to further expand the movement. The technical issues that these various methods must consider include recovery efficiency, cost-effectiveness, contamination risks due to injection of poor-quality recharge water, and clogging of aquifers. Numerous artificial recharge experiments have been carried out in India and have established the technical feasibility of various approaches and combinations of approaches in unconfined, semi-confined and confined aquifer systems as well as the economic viability.
What is less well understood and appreciated is the potential impacts of numerous local recharge efforts on basin-scale water availability and distribution. The popularity of groundwater recharge is a function of its local success. This, and the critical role of local involvement, highlights the advantages of community approaches to groundwater management described by Schlager (Chapter 7, this volume). However, as shown by the contrast in the two case studies from Gujarat, 'successful' local efforts at recharge can cause problems further downstream. The possible impacts of local action on regional outcomes highlights the key challenge of community-based groundwater governance also described by Schlager - the potential conflict as one moves from local to basin scales.
The reality is that the groundwater recharge movement in India, initiated by local elites and later aided by government and NGOs, has become a people's movement and is likely to stay long into the future. In order to maximize its possible benefits and minimize costs, it has to be nurtured and carried forward with systematic research and development programmes covering its physical, economic, environmental and - what is most lacking now - institutional aspects that can resolve problems across scales.
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