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©CAB International 2007. The Agricultural Groundwater Revolution: Opportunities and Threats to Development (M. Giordano and K.G. Villholth)

ing loss of life and other damages due to flooding and droughts. Over time, it has been recognized that appropriate action on these major issues is impossible without having access to sufficient and relevant information on the systems considered. As stated by the South African Minister of Water Resources Ronny Kasrils (2003): 'No sustainable development of a scarce natural resource is possible without understanding the resource and managing it wisely according to this growing understanding.' Therefore, the knowledge base on our water resources has to be continuously developed and updated.

Where a knowledge base is needed on water resources in general, it is even more indispensable in relation to groundwater. Groundwater is an invisible resource: it is hidden underground and after appearing at the surface it is formally not groundwater any more. This makes groundwater a component of the water cycle that is comparatively difficult to understand for most people. Unlike rain and surface water, groundwater is veiled in mystery. Only few people have a conceptually correct idea of aspects such as: how groundwater in their region is stored underground; how voluminous it is; how it moves and at what speed; what is its quality and how this quality may change; how groundwater is linked with surface water, local ecosystems and the environment; how to develop the groundwater resources efficiently and protect them against pollution and other problems. Even more difficult is it to imagine how the state and functions of a groundwater system may respond over time to intensified rates of groundwater exploitation and other changing boundary conditions.

It goes without saying that sufficient information and knowledge is needed if we want to make optimum use of such a natural resource and if we want to manage and protect it properly. However, even the nature of the information and knowledge needed varies widely. On the one hand, area-specific (i.e. geo-referenced) information is required to:

• unveil at least some of the mysteries of this hidden resource in order to make groundwater systems under standable to water resources planners and decision makers;

• contribute to the proper identification of groundwater-related potentials and problems;

• facilitate the prediction over time of the groundwater system evolution in response to changing natural and anthropogenic boundary conditions.

On the other hand, professionals engaged in groundwater cannot fulfil their jobs adequately without also having access to some more generic information on groundwater, especially on:

• relevant scientific and technological principles, such as geology, hydraulics, drilling, pumping, hydrology, groundwater quality, eco-hydrology, water economics, water law and behaviour sciences;

• methods and technology for assessment, development and management of groundwater.

Consequently, knowledge bases that combine both local information with broader principles related to groundwater are required for guiding towards proper development and management of groundwater resources.

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