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C2.3 Groundwater management plans


Managing groundwater in the IWRM context means balancing the exploitation of the resource (in terms of quantity, quality, and relevant links to other natural resources) with the increasing demand for water for broad economic development and livelihoods. The balancing will have to take into consideration efficiency, equity and long-term sustainability in terms of maintaining both quality and quantity at desired levels. However, in practice, groundwater is often managed separately from:

  • Surface water, though it is part of the overall hydrological cycle, both in quantity and quality;
  • Urban wastewater, though it simultaneously represents an additional resource and a potential pollution threat to groundwater;
  • Land management, though aquifers are threatened by pollution from urbanisation, industrial development, agricultural activity and mining enterprises.

A groundwater management plan should therefore be part of an IWRM plan (C2.1) in order to avoid the situations mentioned above. Thus, the groundwater management plan, as the national plan, will identify actions necessary to contribute to an effective water resources management framework. It will use stakeholder participation, capacity building, set needs in the wider social and economic framework and recognise clearly the local hydrogeological, socio-economic and institutional situation.

The delineation of appropriate boundaries for the establishment of the groundwater resource planning/management area is a difficult issue which often goes beyond political/administrative limits. Also, in some socio-economic and political real-world situations, risk management decisions to address excessive abstraction and/or severe groundwater pollution will override integrated management approaches. Other barriers to an integrated approach include a lack of institutional capacity, limited fund availability or, simply, politics.

The strategies of a groundwater management plan should be appropriate to the specific situation:

  • In a baseline situation with insignificant groundwater abstraction, only registration of wells and springs, and resource mapping are needed;
  • In a situation of incipient stress with few local competing demands and conflicts, simple management tools for well spacing, supported by a regulatory framework are appropriate;
  • With significant stress, where abstraction affects natural regimes and stakeholders, a groundwater development policy and regulatory framework, based on a comprehensive resource assessment, are needed;
  • In the unsustainable situation with excessive uncontrolled abstraction and irreversible aquifer deterioration, there is an urgent need for much more rigorous policies, legislation, regulation, and strong management mechanisms.

Lessons learned

  • National food and energy policies can exert an overriding influence on groundwater development and management strategies.
  • A finely-tuned balance of regulations (on water rights in particular (A2.1)), economic tools (e.g. abstraction and pollution tariffs and tradeable permits (C7)) and incentives to use water more efficiently is required to bring stakeholders into groundwater management.
  • The effectiveness of stringent reactions to a groundwater crisis may depend on how much society is willing to pay for such an approach.
  • Top-down and bottom-up approaches must be reconciled to achieve effective resource planning/management.
  • Implementing management measures will often require capacity building, both in water resource authorities and amongst water users.

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