Introduction

Groundwater has long been second to surface water in terms of its importance for human use and the attention devoted to it by the general public and water sector managers. However, this picture is quickly changing as groundwater increasingly supplants surface water in many areas of the world as the primary and preferred source of water for all types of use, i.e. domestic, agricultural (crop and livestock) and industrial. This change is being driven by groundwater's inherently beneficial properties in terms of both quality and quantity combined with easy access through better and cheaper drilling and pumping techniques. While its 'in-stream' values, as is the case with rivers, have not been widely acknowledged, the critical role groundwater plays in maintaining important surface water systems, riparian and other types of vegetation as well as vital ecosystems is also increasingly recognized. However, this recognition has unfortunately emerged in many cases in a retrospective manner, as the signs of overdraft and degradation gradually become manifest in the depletion and deterioration of the associated aquifers, rivers, lakes, wetlands and other water-related ecosystems. Groundwater is surfacing, so to speak, in people's awareness mostly as a result of the increasingly observable problems rather than as a reaction of gratitude for all the benefits that it is providing humankind. The saying: 'You never miss your water till your well runs dry' is very suitable in this context. However, the question then turns to whether the impending accruing groundwater-related problems can be countered and curbed based on this increased general awareness and appreciation of the resource. Can groundwater use in today's world be actively managed, and how?

This chapter highlights some salient characteristics of groundwater as a fundamental resource for human existence, the contemporary use of the resource, particularly in agriculture, and the present challenges associated with its management in a local and global context. The objective is to summarize, in a kaleidoscopic and more philosophical way, the chapters presented in this volume, The Agricultural

┬ęCAB International 2007. The Agricultural Groundwater Revolution:

Opportunities and Threats to Development (M. Giordano and K.G. Villholth) 393

Groundwater Revolution: Opportunities and Threats to Development, and suggest answers to the above questions.

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