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Article Released Wed-12th-August-2009 17:36 GMT
Contact: Ruth Institution: Nature Publishing Group
 Hydrology: India running on empty

Groundwater in northwestern India is being depleted at an unsustainable rate, which could lead to severe water shortages and reduced agricultural productivity.

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Hydrology: India running on empty
DOI: 10.1038/nature08238

***This paper will be published electronically on Nature's website on 12 July at 1800 London time / 1300 US Eastern time (which is also when the embargo lifts) as part of our AOP (ahead of print) programme. Although we have included it on this release to avoid multiple mailings it will not appear in print on 13 July, but at a later date. ***

Groundwater in northwestern India is being depleted at an unsustainable rate, which could lead to severe water shortages and reduced agricultural productivity. A report published online in Nature this week finds that the reduction in groundwater cannot be attributed to natural climate variability, but is probably caused by excessive consumption from irrigation and other human uses.

India suffers severe water shortages in many regions, with increased pressure being placed on resources by population growth, irrigation and economic development. Yet groundwater management has proven difficult, as the margins between natural aquifers used to monitor the situation bear no resemblance to regional and international borders.

Matthew Rodell and colleagues used satellite data and land-surface models to study the change in terrestrial water storage in the states of Rajasthan, Punjab and Haryana (which includes Delhi) from 2002–2008. They show that groundwater is being depleted at a rate of about 4 centimetres per year, with no decline in annual rainfall. Over the six-year period, this was equivalent to a net loss of 109 cubic kilometres of groundwater, double the capacity of India’s largest surface reservoir, and much more than the Indian government has estimated. Although the authors recognise that their observational record is brief, the overriding evidence suggests that the rate of groundwater consumption is unsustainable and if left unchecked will lead to severe shortages.

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