Groundwater is connected to many goods and services people depend upon, including food and energy production. Over the years, groundwater situations have changed rapidly in many places around the world due to intensive use of the resource, particularly for irrigation and domestic water supply, coupled with climate change.
Changes in groundwater quality or quantity can lead to the environmental degradation of ecosystems. This is just one example how groundwater plays an integral role in environmental aspects. Both the causes and consequences of changes in groundwater status are interlinked with many other aspects ranging from environmental, social, economic and political aspects.
IGRAC’s thematic assessments are highlighting the role of groundwater in relation to these various aspects. It helps understanding groundwater in general; by putting it in a broader context, taking another perspective or by focusing on a specific topic to emphasize the vulnerability or importance of groundwater.
Groundwater and Ecosystems
Groundwater plays an integral role in sustaining certain types of aquatic, terrestrial and coastal ecosystems, and the associated landscapes, both in humid and arid climatic regions. It is a key factor in efforts to maintain the ecological integrity of some key ecosystems. Ecosystem services are the benefits people obtain from the ecosystems. The services provided by these ecosystems are therefore also directly, and indirectly, dependent on the availability and state of groundwater resources. Increased groundwater abstraction, increased groundwater contamination and climate variability, are affecting the functioning of ecosystems and thereby jeopardize the services these ecosystems provide. To successfully address the challenges of climate change and anthropogenic pressures on groundwater, ecosystems and their services, a holistic view is needed. For such interdependent challenges ecosystem-based adaptation (EbA) could be a promising approach.
Water security, energy supply and food security are often treated as separate challenges. However these three resources have comparable characteristics ranging from ensuring access to services, to environmental impacts to price volatility. They are also strongly interconnected; agriculture accounts for about 70% of global freshwater use. Water is used for energy production and conversion, while at the same time energy is required for distribution of freshwater as well as the production of freshwater supply. Understanding the connections and trade-offs among the water food and energy sectors, are key to adapt appropriate policies and practices that can power transition to a green economy. The water-food-energy (WFE) nexus elucidates these crucial links and the importance of governance and management across sectors and scales to improve and secure water, food and energy resources.
Aquifers provide people with a multitude of benefits in various forms, ranging from drinking water, over flood-protection to the provision of ecosystems and ecosystem services. Often, however, these benefits are undervalued and consumed without taking into account that unsustainable usage imposes negative externalities on present and future generations. Groundwater valuation is an instrument for efficiently allocating groundwater resources over time and between uses. Specifically, it supports sustainable groundwater management by visualising trade-offs between different water uses and showing the magnitude of consequences of over-abstraction and misallocation. In a transboundary setting it moreover provides a foundation for mutual understanding through enabling discussions on the basis of a common monetary denominator.