Drying Wells, Rising Stakes

Towards Sustainable Agricultural Groundwater Use

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Groundwater has provided great benefits to agriculture irrigation in semi-arid OECD countries, but its intensive use beyond recharge in certain regions has depleted resources and generated significant negative environmental externalities. The report provides a characterisation of the diversity of groundwater systems, reviews policies in OECD countries, and proposes a package of recommendations to ensure that groundwater can sustain its services to agriculture and contribute to climate change adaptation.

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As a natural reserve relatively resilient to climate variability, groundwater has provided large benefits to irrigated agriculture in semi-arid OECD countries. It has supported the development and expanded production of commodity crops in the US Midwest and Mexico and high value products in semi-arid areas of Mediterranean Europe or the Middle East. But intensive use beyond recharge capacity in certain regions has depleted resources and increasingly generates significant negative environmental externalities, including stream depletion, saline intrusion and land subsidence.

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