An Initial Inventory and Indexation of Groundwater Mega-Depletion Cases

Adrian Werner, Qi Zhang, Lijuan Xue, B Smerdon, Xianghu Li, Xinjun Zhu, Lei Yu, Ling Li

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    67 Citations (Scopus)


    The state of groundwater systems worldwide is presently not well defined, and in particular there is little context for agencies responsible for managing water resources to evaluate occurrences of groundwater depletion against other cases globally. In this study, an initial inventory of groundwater depletion problems is compiled and ranked to identify the world's most critical cases, i. e. situations of groundwater mega-depletion. The ranking is based on an indexed approach that considers overdraft, drawdown and subsidence, plus the importance of the resources in terms of population-dependency and rates of extraction. The five most highly ranked depleted aquifers of the world include the shallow aquifers of the Hai River Plain (China), the Altiplano region (Spain), the Mexico Basin (Mexico), the Huang River basin (China) and the California Central Valley (USA). An abridged account of modelling to assess drawdown is described for the Hai River Plain, revealing that despite recharge in the order of 13,000 GL/yr, an overdraft of about 8,000 GL/yr is occurring to support the vast population of the region. This has led to up to 100 m of drawdown in places and reports of subsidence of several metres. The Hai River situation demonstrates that falling water levels may not act to alleviate pumping stresses; a symptom of unchecked extraction and an exemplary illustration of the tragedy of the commons. The causal factors leading to mega-depletion are varying across the globe and each mega-depletion case contains unique elements, although population appears to be an important factor.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)507-533
    Number of pages27
    JournalWater Resources Management
    Issue number2
    Publication statusPublished - Jan 2013


    • Drawdown
    • Global water use
    • Groundwater depletion
    • Haihe River
    • Overdraft


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