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Current and future groundwater withdrawals: Effects, management and energy policy options for a semi-arid Indian watershed

Sishodia, Rajendra P., Shukla, Sanjay, Graham, Wendy D., Wani, Suhas P., Jones, James W., Heaney, James
Advances in water resources 2017 v.110 pp. 459-475
aquifers, carbon footprint, crop production, death, distress, drought, drying, electric energy consumption, electricity, energy, energy policy, farmers, farms, funding, groundwater, groundwater extraction, hydrologic models, intensive farming, irrigated farming, livelihood, microirrigation, politics, profits and margins, rain, semiarid zones, summer, water supply, water table, water use efficiency, watersheds, wells, India
Effects of future expansion/intensification of irrigated agriculture on groundwater and surface water levels and availability in a semi-arid watershed were evaluated using an integrated hydrologic model (MIKE SHE/MIKE 11) in conjunction with biophysical measurements. Improved water use efficiency, water storage, and energy policy options were evaluated for their ability to sustain the future (2035) increased groundwater withdrawals. Three future withdrawal scenarios (low= 20, medium= 30, high= 50wells/100km2/year) based on the historical rate of growth of irrigation wells were formulated. While well drying from falling groundwater levels was limited to drought and consecutive below average rainfall years, under the current (2015) withdrawals, significant increases in frequency and duration (17–97days/year) of well drying along with 13–26% (19–37mm) reductions in surface flows were predicted under the future withdrawals. Higher (27–108%) energy demands of existing irrigation pumps due to declining groundwater levels and reduced hydroelectric generation due to decreased surface flows would create a vicious water-food-energy nexus in the future. Crop failure, one of the main causes of farmers’ emotional distress and death in the region, is predicted to exacerbate under the future withdrawal scenarios. Shift to negative net recharge (−63mm) and early and prolonged drying of wells under the high scenario will reduce the groundwater availability and negatively affect crop production in more than 60% and 90% of cropped areas in the Rabi (November–February) and summer (March–May) seasons, respectively during a drought year. Individual and combined demand (drip irrigation and reduced farm electricity subsidy) and supply (water storage) management options improved groundwater levels and reduced well drying by 55–97days/year compared to business-as-usual management under the high scenario. The combined management (50% drip conversion, 50% reduction in subsidy, and enhanced water storage) mitigated well drying even during drought and consecutive below average rainfall years under the high scenario. A conservative economic evaluation for management options under the high scenario showed increases in crop production and per farmer annual profits by $987–$1397 during a drought year (average household income=$1520/year). A scale-up of results showed that diverting 50% state power subsidy ($6billion for 3–6 years) can almost entirely fund the conversion to drip irrigation ($4.2billion) and water storage structures ($2.9billion) and help meet the water supply demand of a 50% increase in irrigated area under the high scenario. Converting flood to drip irrigation in 50% of irrigated area under the high scenario can reduce the electric energy consumption (7 ×106Mwh/year) and carbon footprint (6000Mt/year) of groundwater irrigation by 24% in the state. Management options considered can potentially create a sustainable water-food-energy nexus in the larger semi-arid hard rock region. Reducing the power subsidy will require a strong political will since it has been used as a tool to win the elections in India. Considering future agricultural intensification, timely interventions are needed to ensure the livelihood and well-being of millions of small- and medium-scale farmers that rely on low storage, hard rock aquifers in the semi-arid regions of the world.