At less than 1,000 km3/year, the world's annual use of groundwater is 1.5% of renewable water resource but contributes a lion's share of water-induced human welfare. Global groundwater use however has increased manifold in the past 50 years; and the human race has never had to manage groundwater use on such a large scale. Sustaining the massive welfare gains groundwater development has created without ruining the resource is a key water challenge facing the world today. In exploring this challenge, we have focused a good deal on conditions of resource occurrence but less so on resource use. I offer a typology of five groundwater demand systems as Groundwater Socio-ecologies (GwSE), each embodying a unique pattern of interactions between socio-economic and ecological variables, and each facing a distinct groundwater governance challenge. During the past century, a growing corpus of experiential knowledge has accumulated in the industrialized world on managing groundwater in various uses and contexts. A daunting global groundwater issue today is to apply this knowledge intelligently to by far the more formidable challenge that has arisen in developing regions of Asia and Africa, where groundwater irrigation has evolved into a colossal anarchy supporting billions of livelihoods but threatening the resource itself.

This content is only available as a PDF.