Warming climate worsens groundwater depletion rates in India

A new study led by the University of Oklahoma reveals that increased groundwater withdrawals are accelerating groundwater depletion rates in India, a known hotspot for groundwater depletion.

The study warns that under a business-as-usual scenario of groundwater use for irrigation, warming temperatures may triple groundwater depletion rates, posing a significant threat to India’s food and water security. Approximately 60% of India’s irrigated agriculture relies on threatened groundwater, making adaptation to an increasingly warm climate a major challenge.

The research highlights the need for policies and interventions to conserve groundwater and mitigate the effects of climate change on India’s water resources. Without such measures, the study suggests that India’s existing groundwater depletion problem will worsen, potentially affecting the nation’s food production and water availability.

The study utilizes an empirical model that links groundwater depletion, crop water stress, and India’s climate, taking into account the differences between India’s two major aquifer systems, unconsolidated and consolidated aquifers. It also considers the potential expansion of areas affected by groundwater depletion due to climate change, with projections indicating that depletion may extend to the southwest, southern peninsula, and central India by 2050.

The study calls for an end to overexploitation of groundwater withdrawal and recommends policies such as rationing power supply and metering electricity usage, regional water source development and allocation, incentives for farmers investing in groundwater recharge, and the reduction or elimination of energy subsidies to address the groundwater depletion issue.

Collaborators on the study include researchers from Stanford University, the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center, Tel Aviv University, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Michigan State University, and the University of Michigan.

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