India is running “the largest water-mining project in the world”–and it cannot be sustained much longer, Columbia Water Center researcher Shama Perveen told an audience on Monday. That is mainly because farmers, who depend heavily on irrigation water drawn from underground aquifers, are using far more water than rainfall can replenish. Perveen’s talk, “Quantifying the Dimensions of Water Crisis in India,” contained a series of daunting statistics:
–India’s northern breadbasket region, home to 600 million people, lost about 60 cubic kilometers of water from its groundwater aquifers in 2002-2008.
–Farmers who used to pump water from five or 10 feet below the surface are now sometimes drilling down 200 or 300 feet.
–Unlike the United States and Australia, which have dams that can store up to 6,000 cubic meters of water for each person, India has a dismal storage capacity of 200 cubic meters per capita.
Perveen says that building dams will not suffice, because of the extreme imbalance between rains and usage; in some regions, dams would have to hold five years’ worth of rainfall just to keep up. In the future, India will have to make irrigation far more efficient, and switch from water-intensive crops like rice, she said.