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date: 11 December 2018

The Global Groundwater Revolution

This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Environmental Science. Please check back later for the full article.

Human behavior in relation to groundwater has remained relatively unchanged from ancient times until no more than about half a century to one century ago. Intercepting water from springs or exploiting shallow aquifers by means of wells or qanats was common practice around the world, but only modest quantities of groundwater were abstracted. In general, the resource was taken for granted, in the absence of any knowledge regarding groundwater systems and the notion of their vulnerability.

During the 20th century, however, an unprecedent change started spreading over the entire globe—a change so drastic that it rightfully may be called the global groundwater revolution. It did not surface simultaneously everywhere, but rather encroached into different regions as waves of change with different timing, depending on local conditions. This global groundwater revolution has three main components: (a) rapid intensification of the exploitation of groundwater; (b) development of knowledge on local groundwater and awareness of its potential roles, interactions, and impacts; and (c) emergence of groundwater resources management and groundwater governance. These components are to a large degree interdependent, although their emergence and development tend to be somewhat asynchronous.

The global groundwater revolution marks a radical historical change in the relation between human society and groundwater. It has raised benefits from groundwater to an unprecedented level, but their sustainability is assured only if good groundwater governance is present.