Groundwater use in agriculture has accelerated with the advent of the motorized pump. Today, irrigated areas reliant upon groundwater are estimated to occupy almost 40% of the global area equipped for irrigation.
This demand for groundwater has facilitated intensification of agricultural production both within existing surface irrigation commands and on land that would otherwise have no alternative supply. In either case the pressure on aquifer services is such that many important aquifer systems are stressed to the point of no-return - their capacity to sustain flows of acceptable quality groundwater and absorb agricultural chemicals is exhausted and agricultural production has to be abandoned. Taken with the anticipated impacts of climate change in long term recharge patterns in key agricultural production areas such as the Mediterranean basin, the imperative to manage the demand for groundwater falls squarely on the shoulders of agriculture to both sustain important zones of precision agriculture and conserve strategic aquifers for critical potable water supplies.
The purpose of this action is to develop a set of strategic action plans at aquifer level to reverse or slow trends aquifer depletion and degradation where agricultural livelihoods are currently impacted but livelihood dependence is expected to continue. Aquifers that have been degraded ‘beyond repair’ are not expected to be included – only those with some prospect of remediation. The results of recent national groundwater reviews undertaken by the World Bank, for instance, may provide a basis for identification.
Strategic action programmes for specific aquifers need not be elaborate – but they have to involve the right set of users and regulators at local level and this has to be agreed with national governments. Financing for the initiatives would need to be negotiated through technical cooperation agreements and co-financing.
Accordingly, the Action Plan for this particular target (Target VII) would be expected to comprise the following steps, divided into appropriate stages of formulation, detailed design and implementation.
Stage I: Identification and agreement on target aquifers
- Identification of key national institutions active in groundwater management for agriculture with declared interest in solving groundwater allocation and protecting aquifers. Key national institutions could be Central Groundwater Board, India. Ministry of Water Resources China, USGS;
- Identification of key regional support institutions with a declared interest in groundwater management – OSS, SADC, OAS, ESCAP;
- Design and transmission of survey to identify priority hotspot aquifers and stakeholders at national level.
Stage II: Detailed Design of SAPs (including MAP and MAP indicators) and field programmes
- Mobilization of finance through technical cooperation agreements;
- Design of material to facilitate application of MAD and MAP methodologies;
- Design of strategic action plan and field programme in each country.
Stage III: Implementation of field programmes
- Inception of field programme in priority aquifers;
- Monitoring for field programme;
- Reporting of results;
- Synthesis of results