Thursday, May 3, 2012

Thirsty Thursday: Watering India

Water is the foundation of life on this planet. It is also in short supply as demands for agriculture, energy, and urban drinking water grow. Not to mention the impacts of climate change on shifting rain patterns, making some regions drier and others more variable. Like many countries, India  is starting to feel the force of this scarcity. According to a recent article in National Geographic Magazine, the wells that have been keeping India green are running dry.  And these are not some quaint little stone wells in a wood (my mind's idyllic image); reach up to 600 feet below ground level, the wells are tapping deep groundwater aquifers that take many years to replenish.

What does this mean? Besides taking a good deal of energy to pump this water out of the ground, loss of groundwater resources can hurt crop production and increase the salinity of the soil (also reducing crop production). Moreover, and as seems to often be the case, the poor rural populations are the most affected. The article calls for more accurate pricing of electricity (and therefore, water), to spur conscientious use of the resource. Agricultural techniques, such as using drip irrigation and better-adapted crops, will help improve efficiency in water consumption.

Columbia University's Water Center and the Stockholm Environment Institute cited in the article, both argue for breaking down the barriers between energy, water, and agriculture sectors. Unfortunately, operating in silos is not a new issue;, nor are the "water woes" in India. A New York Times article three years ago described the same scenario. Perhaps, the new policies and state government programs (like that in Gujarat) that focus on better energy and water management will be the first step in the right direction.

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