The northern region of Gujarat State in western India (map) is semi-arid and prone to droughts, receiving almost all of its rain during the monsoon season between June and September.
But for thepast three decades, many crop and dairy farms have remained green—even during the dry season.
That's because farmers have invested in wells and pumps, using massive amounts of electricity to extractwater from deep aquifers. The government has artificially propped up the agricultural sector through power subsidies and price supports.
The pumping hasn't occurred without dire environmental impacts.Groundwater tables have fallen precipitously, 600 feet below the ground in some places, requiring even more powerful pumps to bring water to the surface. Over-consumption has taxed the power grid,constraining the electricity available for others.
North Gujarat is a well-documented, extreme example of groundwater depletion and an unsustainable agricultural sector. But there are many other hotspots in places such as India, China, and the Middle East where energy demands are rising so enough water can be pumped to produce food. In essence, experts warn, agriculture in those areas is in perilbecause of its unsustainable relationship with energy and groundwater.
Potential impacts include not only dry aquifers and failing farms, but increased soil salinity and carbon dioxide emissions.Climate change exacerbates the situation. Poor farmers often are hit the hardest, because they can't afford to invest in expensive technologies to drill wells and pump water from them.
The challenge forGujarat and other areas lies at what is commonly known these days as the water-energy nexus. Broadly speaking, the term refers to the ways in which water and energy resources are interdependent.
Thegoal is to find solutions to the constraints of both—to optimize resource use and eliminate the "slack," or inefficiencies in the system, said Holger Hoff, senior research fellow at the Stockholm...
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