Groundwater is an increasingly important resource for human development, including domestic water supply, irrigated agriculture and industry. In addition, groundwater has an important environmental role in sustaining rivers’ baseflow, ecosystems and associated ecosystem services. Groundwater is of strategic importance to achieve global water and food security under a changing climate.
Managed Aquifer Recharge (MAR) is considered an essential technique to meet water demands for the future. As pressures on freshwater resources increase globally as a result of growing water demands, urbanization, increased food production and the necessity to preserve ecosystems, MAR is expected to be increasingly relied upon. Given that MAR can provide more effective, sustainable and cost-efficient freshwater management solutions as compared to aboveground solutions, such as construction of surface water dams or saltwater desalination, one may wonder why it is not yet implemented at a much larger scale.
Five steps to increase global acceptance of MAR
MAR is still relatively unknown, and decision-makers may wrongly perceive it as costly and potentially complicated. So how can we improve the global acceptance of MAR to ensure that it becomes fully adopted as an integral component of sustainable water management strategies?
The following five actions could increase global acceptance of managed aquifer recharge as a solution to the world’s growing water demands.
1. Increase awareness on the benefits of MAR
There is a need to increase awareness amongst decision-makers, water resource managers and water users on the benefits of MAR and on the technical aspects of design, implementation and maintenance. There are initiatives, like the MAR Commission of the International Association of Hydrogeologists (IAH-MAR), that facilitate exchange of information and raise awareness among the water community. But to a large extent, the knowledge still resides within a small group of research institutes and groundwater specialists. This is unfortunate, since MAR could be applied as an integrated water management strategy, and it presents opportunities for conjunctive management of surface water and groundwater resources. For example, in semi-arid regions, seasonally or intermittently, available excess water can be captured and stored in aquifers. As such, MAR can be applied to better balance year-round water supply and to meet water demands throughout the year.
2. Improve access to information on MAR demonstration projects
Improved access to information on MAR projects will help stakeholders to better understand the benefits and to adopt MAR on a larger scale. Demonstration projects will provide confidence that MAR techniques can contribute to sustainable water management and will highlight how MAR applications can be adapted to local situations.
In 2016, the Technical University of Dresden and IGRAC developed the MAR portal. It comprises an interactive map with detailed information on 1,200 existing MAR sites around the world. These existing schemes offer real-world and best-practice examples that can be useful in planning and implementing new projects. The portal, which is in ongoing development, collates the most up-to-date information on MAR for dissemination.
3. Develop regional MAR suitability maps
MAR can be applied at different scales and for different purposes. However, aquifer characteristics must be suitable, excess water available and local conditions must be favorable. Developing regional MAR suitability maps helps to identify location(s) with the highest potential for successful implementation. A structured approach to the selection of sites minimizes risks in terms of design, operation and maintenance thereby improving efficiency and economics of a MAR project. Showcasing potentially suitable locations for MAR can accelerate uptake.
4. Showcase the economic performance of MAR
At present, it is not easy to get quick insights into the a priori cost and benefits (economic performance) of MAR, and this hampers implementations. Economic analysis of individual demonstration projects exists, but comprehensive overviews of generic methods for cost estimates of development and operation of different MAR techniques under different conditions is still lacking. Developing this is challenging because of the site-specific factors and the difficulty to monetize multiple benefits of MAR. However, this is important to develop, as decisions to invest in MAR will often be taken on this combination of multiple economic, social and environmental benefits.
5. Provide guidance via policies and regulatory frameworks
In many countries, guidelines and policies to ensure safe and sustainable development and operation of MAR schemes are still lacking or inadequate. In some settings, local action by motivated communities has been highly effective in managing groundwater storage and increasing farm incomes, and they have run ahead of state and national policies. Successful implementation of MAR should be facilitated via a regulatory framework that includes protection of public health and the environment. Developing guidelines and policy based on practical experiences will also facilitate successful implementation elsewhere.
- Dillon, P. et al. 2010. Managed aquifer recharge: rediscovering nature as a leading-edge technology. Water Science Technology 62:2338-2345
- Sprenger, C. et al. 2017. Inventory of managed aquifer recharge sites in Europe: historical development, current situation and perspectives. Hydrogeology Journal, 1-14