Blog.Feb 28, 2022

5 ways governments can protect groundwater

Groundwater is the world’s most abundant freshwater resource and a crucial regulator of water extremes such as floods and drought. But because it is also hidden from our sight, we tend to pay little attention to it. So little, in fact, that we may be destroying it without even noticing.

With the current approach to groundwater, the world is headed for disaster, according to Dr. John Cherry, who was awarded the Stockholm Water Prize in 2020 for his work with groundwater. Here are five actions governments should take to reverse the trend:

  1. Apply the Precautionary Principle. Recognize that the dire situation for groundwater is a result of many unintended consequences. The Precautionary Principle (PP) must, therefore, be the guiding principle for groundwater governance, which is currently not the case
  2. Shift to cradle-to-cradle production. In today’s current cradle-to-grave manufacturing, groundwater ends up as the grave for harmful chemicals from manufacturing processes and from products. But cradle-to-cradle thinking is becoming more common – and this is the way forward. In a circular economy, no manufacturing processes and products emit chemicals harmful to water.
  3. Change food habits. Nearly all of groundwater depletion and most groundwater pollution result from ‘modern chemical agriculture’. Ecological agriculture is better as it is a form of cradle-to-cradle production applied to food. We should also move away from eating beef. Impose taxes or penalties on groundwater pollution caused by agriculture and eliminate government subsidies that contribute to groundwater unsustainability.
  4. Establish effective groundwater monitoring. Use modern monitoring methods for groundwater levels and hydrochemistry with data transparency in all areas where groundwater is a significant resource. Effective monitoring networks are still rare, but modern cost-effective methods exist, including technology for real-time data recording. In most cases, the data should also be fully available for the public, to view on their smart phones or tablets.
  5. Strengthen groundwater governance. Groundwater depletion and pollution can often be attributed to poor governance, frequently stemming from a lack of knowledge about groundwater. There is a need to make groundwater science more accessible: for example, through the Groundwater Project, and to raise capacity about groundwater governance.

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Groundwater has been out of sight and out of mind for too long. When we protect groundwater we save lives and ecosystems, improve health, reduce hunger and tackle climate change all at once.

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Illustration by SIWI