Why in the news?
- The Ministry of Jal Shakti is working on an ambitious plan to deploy a vast network of groundwater sensors that would continuously relay information on groundwater levels and the degree of contamination down to the taluk level.
- At present, such information is only measured a few times a year and communicated via reports from the Central Groundwater Board.
What is Groundwater?
- Groundwater is the water found underground in the cracks and spaces in soil, sand and rock.
- It is stored in and moves slowly through geologic formations of soil, sand and rocks called aquifers.
- Aquifers are typically made up of gravel, sand, sandstone, or fractured rock, like limestone.
- Water can move through these materials because they have large connected spaces that make them permeable.
- Aquifers, hand-dug wells, and artesian wells are different types of sources of groundwater.
Significance of the move
- Monitoring: Establishing a network that would continuously measure groundwater quality, feed it into a centralized network such as that of the National Water Informatics Centre (NWIC) and available for monitoring would make groundwater visible much the same way as air quality.
- Those regions and States that are known to have groundwater contamination, for example, coastal salinity or excessive depletion, would be monitored more intensely for action by States.
- Groundwater forecasts: The government would be able to provide groundwater forecasts to farmers that would be useful for sowing, and updated advisories that can influence groundwater extraction policies by States.
- Except for information on water flow governed by international treaties, most of this information would be publicly accessible.
- The information will help in informed decision-making.
- It will help in monitoring pollutants in water.
- It will help the government to take appropriate steps to address the issue.
- Given the dependence on agriculture on groundwater resources it would be immensely helpful.
Why monitor groundwater?
- Nitrate contamination – a result of the use of nitrogenous fertilizers – has been observed in some regions
- Groundwater contamination, mostly “geogenic” (natural), hasn’t significantly changed over the years.
- But nitrate contamination and fluoride and arsenic contamination have been observed in some regions and states.
Groundwater Extraction in India
- The total annual groundwater recharge in the country has been assessed as 437.60 billion cubic meters (BCM)
- The annual extractable groundwater resource has been assessed as 398.08 bcm, with actual extraction of 239.16 bcm
- The average stage of groundwater extraction for the country as a whole works out to be about 60.08%, and anything above 70% is considered “critical”
- The Jal Shakti Ministry’s initiative to establish a network that will continuously measure groundwater quality is a significant step toward water conservation and management in India.
- The continuous measurement of groundwater levels and contamination would benefit farmers, policymakers, and the general public.
- The government’s focus on groundwater management is timely, given the increasing demand for groundwater resources and the associated risks of depletion and contamination.
- With the deployment of this vast network of groundwater sensors, India is on its way to achieving sustainable groundwater management.