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Groundwater Allocation

Managing Growing Pressures on Quantity and Quality

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Groundwater allocation determines who is able to use groundwater resources, how, when and where. It directly affects the value (economic, ecological, socio-cultural) that individuals and society obtain from groundwater, today and in the future. Building on the 2015 OECD publication Water Resources Allocation: Sharing Risks and Opportunities, this report focuses on groundwater and how its allocation can be improved in terms of economic efficiency, environmental effectiveness and social equity. Drawing on an analysis of groundwater’s distinctive features and nine case studies of groundwater allocation in a range of countries, the report provides practical policy guidance for groundwater allocation in the form of a "health check". This health check can be used to assess the performance of current arrangements and manage the transition towards improved allocation.

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Executive summary

As the predominant reservoir of freshwater on Earth, groundwater provides an important source of water supply for drinking, irrigation and industry and contributes to sustaining groundwater-dependent ecosystems, such as streams and wetlands. Pressures on the quantity and quality of the resource have increased significantly over recent decades. Globally, groundwater withdrawals have risen sharply; nearly tenfold in the past 50 years (Shah et al., 2007). At the same time, the resource is becoming increasingly degraded due to pollution and saline intrusion. Unsustainable groundwater use creates negative environmental externalities, including land subsidence, saline intrusion and the deterioration of groundwater-dependent ecosystems. Groundwater depletion also increases the cost of use, as pumping is required from ever-increasing depths, which may disadvantage small scale users. This depletion can also result in water shortage directly affecting users, with an impact on economic activities.

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