Drivers of Groundwater Development

Two fundamental human drivers for groundwater development for irrigation may be summarized as survival and profit. These two drivers may in fact be considered as extremes of a continuum governed primarily by the stage of development of a certain region, exemplified by the small-scale farmer in central India trying to improve the outcome of his or her small rain-fed plot by supplemental irrigation from groundwater on one end, and a large-scale commercial mid-west farmer in the USA optimizing his maize yield and speculating on world food prices on the other end. The large-scale users, of course, exert the largest abstraction pressure on the resource per person. However, when many small-scale users are conglomerated within larger areas, like in parts of India and China, the aggregate effect may be similar (Fig. 17.2). Furthermore, when large numbers of users are involved, as is often the case in countries with limited resources for monitoring and governance, cooperative management becomes difficult. The ironic fact is that both of these extreme cases represent situations in which groundwater is considered 'overabstracted' today, and the national and local authorities are concerned about the sustainability of the present-day exploitation of the resource.

This spectrum view of groundwater use is a simplification of the reality but serves to show that intensive groundwater exploitation in agriculture today is a common global phenomenon across quite different socio-economic settings, resulting in essentially the same types of physical or environmental impacts. Although the scope and capability for addressing the problems is potentially more favourable for countries like Spain, the USA and Australia (see, respectively, Llamas and Garrido, Chapter 13; Peck, Chapter 14; and Turral and Fullagar, Chapter 15, this volume), it is clear that by no means is the curbing of groundwater intensive use easy in any setting.

Figure 17.2 gives a sketch of the spectrum of groundwater use as a function of development. 'Use' and 'development' here are broad illustrative terms, not put to any quantitative scale.

Stage of development

Fig. 17.2. Sketch of spectrum of groundwater use as a function of development.

Stage of development

Fig. 17.2. Sketch of spectrum of groundwater use as a function of development.

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