Groundwater decline poses a significant sustainability challenge in arid and semi-arid areas where groundwater plays a major life sustaining role. Recent years have marked a drastic decrease in the groundwater table (about 1.1 m/yr equivalent to 19.3 million cubic metres) in the Firuzabad Plain, Iran, where policies to restore groundwater have mostly failed. A holistic view is required to manage the basin's water resources, taking into account key biophysical, socio-economic, and political aspects. This paper applies system dynamics simulation as an integrative approach for modeling the causal relationships that drive the long-term system trajectory. Results suggest that increasing groundwater withdrawal is creating limits to growth archetypal behavior. Groundwater stress affects the livelihood of agricultural communities by reducing profitability and resource depletion. Re-establishing regional groundwater balance within the next 30 years requires that irrigation efficiency be improved to reduce net consumptive water use while maintaining the current level of agricultural production.

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