Session FT 5.33
The manifold manifestations of groundwater sustainability
- Royal Academy of Sciences (Spain) (RAS)
- National Ground Water Association (USA) (NGWA)
- Instituto Geológico y Minero de España (IGME)
The main goal of the session was to present and to discuss the results of the INTERNATIONAL SYMPOSIUM ON GROUNDWATER SUSTAINABILITY (Alicante, Spain 24-27 January, 2006) and the ALICANTE DECLARATION. The main messages, lessons learned and recommendations for action following come from the Alicante declaration.
The emphasis of the debate was on the characteristics, pros and cons of the INTENSIVE GROUNWATER USE SILENT REVOLUTION. This is a new and recent phenomenon that up to now has deserved scarce attention from the high-level water decision-makers but that is crucial in the real water policy of arid and semiarid regions.
The Alicante Declaration is the action agenda that resulted from the debates held during the celebration of the International Symposium on Groundwater Sustainability (ISGWAS) that was held in Alicante, Spain, on January 23rd-27th, 2006.
- Water is essential for life. Groundwater—that part of all water resources that lie underneath land surface—constitutes more than ninety five percent of the global, unfrozen freshwater reserves. Given its vast reserves and broad geographical distribution, its general good quality, and its resilience to seasonal fluctuations and contamination, groundwater holds the promise to ensure current and future world communities an affordable and safe water supply. Groundwater is predominantly a renewable resource which, when managed properly, ensures a long-term supply that can help meet the increasing demands and mitigate the impacts of anticipated climate change. Generally, groundwater development requires a smaller capital investment that surface water development and can be implemented in a shorter timeframe.
- Groundwater has provided great benefits for many societies in recent decades through its direct use as a drinking water source, for irrigated agriculture and industrial development and, indirectly, through ecosystem and streamflow maintenance. The development of groundwater often provides an affordable and rapid way to alleviate poverty and ensure food security. Further, by understanding the complementary nature of ground and surface waters, thoroughly integrated water-resources management strategies can serve to foster their efficient use and enhance the longevity of supply.
- Instances of poorly managed groundwater development and the inadvertent impact of inadequate land-use practices have produced adverse effects such as water-quality degradation, impairment of aquatic ecosystems, lowered groundwater levels and, consequently, land subsidence and the drying of wetlands. As it is less costly and more effective to protect groundwater resources from degradation than to restore them, improved water management will diminish such problems and save money.
- Individuals can endorse the Alicante Declaration by sending an e-mail to: email@example.com. Under Subject write: "Alicante Declaration", and include in the message your name and country. The deadline for individual endorsements is May 1st, 2006.
- Institutional endorsements are also encouraged. Institutions who wish to endorse the Alicante Declaration should contact Juan Antonio López Geta, Director of Hydrogeology and Groundwater of the Geological Survey of Spain at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information. There is no deadline for institutional endorsements.
Orientations for action
To make groundwater’s promise a reality requires the responsible use, management and governance of groundwater. In particular, actions need to be taken by water users, who sustain their well-being through groundwater abstraction; decision makers, both elected and non elected; civil society groups and associations; and scientists who must advocate for the use of sound science in support of better management. To this end, the under signers recommend the following actions:
- Develop more comprehensive water-management, land-use and energy-development strategies that fully recognize groundwater’s important role in the hydrologic cycle. This requires better characterization of groundwater basins, their interconnection with surface water and ecosystems, and a better understanding of the response of the entire hydrologic system to natural and human-induced stresses. More attention should be given to non-renewable and saline groundwater resources when such waters are the only resource available for use.
- Develop comprehensive understanding of groundwater rights, regulations, policy and uses. Such information, including social forces and incentives that drive present-day water management practices, will help in the formulation of policies and incentives to stimulate socially- and environmentally-sound groundwater management practices. This is particularly relevant in those situations where aquifers cross cultural, political or national boundaries.
- Make the maintenance and restoration of hydrologic balance a long-term goal of regional water-management strategies. This requires that water managers identify options to: minimize net losses of water from the hydrologic system; encourage effective and efficient water use, and ensure the fair allocation of water for human use as well as ecological needs, taking into account long-term sustainability. Hydrological, ecological, economic and socioeconomic assessments should be an integral part of any water-management strategy.
- Improve scientific, engineering and applied technological expertise in developing countries. This requires encouraging science-based decision-making as well as “north-south” and “south-south” cooperation. Further, it is important that funds be allocated for programs that encourage the design and mass-dissemination of affordable and low-energy consuming water harnessing devices for household and irrigation.
- Establish ongoing coordinated surface water and groundwater monitoring programs. This requires that data collection become an integral part of water-management strategies so that such strategies can be adapted to address changing socio-economic, environmental, and climatic conditions. The corresponding data sets should be available to all the stakeholders in a transparent and easy way.
- Develop local institutions to improve sustainable groundwater management. This requires that higher-level authorities become receptive to the needs of local groups and encourage the development and support of strong institutional networks with water users and civic society.
- Ensure that citizens recognize groundwater’s essential role in their community and the importance of its responsible use. This requires that science and applied technology serve to enhance education and outreach programs in order to broaden citizen understanding of the entire hydrologic system and its global importance to current and future generations.