India, the world’s largest groundwater user, is seeing levels declining across the country with farmers in Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan facing the prospect of having no groundwater left for irrigation by 2025. Groundwater, the source of 40% of India’s water needs, is depleting at an unsustainable rate, according to Niti Aayog, a government policy think tank. India accounts for 12% of global groundwater extraction, pumping some 230 billion cubic metres each year. At this rate, by 2030, nearly 60% of the aquifers will be in a critical state.
Consecutive years of weak monsoons, massive deforestation, poor rainwater harvesting and pollution of rivers and lakes have led the country to depend on groundwater. More than 90% of the rice-wheat areas in north-west India are irrigated using groundwater. A study using data from NASA’s “Grace” mission found that India’s Indus Basin aquifer to be one of the most overstressed aquifers in the world. “I believe we need to explore the world’s aquifers as if they had the same value as oil reserves,” said principal investigator Jay Famiglietti. “We need to drill for water the same way that we drill for other resources.”