Long-term groundwater recharge rates across India by in situ measurements
Groundwater recharge sustains groundwater discharge, including natural discharge through springs and the base flow to surface water as well as anthropogenic discharge through pumping wells. Here, for the first time, we compute long-term (1996–2015) groundwater recharge rates using data retrieved from several groundwater-level monitoring locations across India (3.3 million km2 area), the most groundwater-stressed region globally. Spatial variations in groundwater recharge rates (basin-wide mean: 17 to 960 mm yr−1) were estimated in the 22 major river basins across India. The extensive plains of the Indus–Ganges–Brahmaputra (IGB) river basins are subjected to prevalence of comparatively higher recharge. This is mainly attributed to occurrence of coarse sediments, higher rainfall, and intensive irrigation-linked groundwater-abstraction inducing recharge by increasing available groundwater storage and return flows. Lower recharge rates (<200 mm yr−1) in most of the central and southern study areas occur in cratonic, crystalline fractured aquifers. Estimated recharge rates have been compared favorably with field-scale recharge estimates (n=52) based on tracer (tritium) injection tests. Results show that precipitation rates do not significantly influence groundwater recharge in most of the river basins across India, indicating human influence in prevailing recharge rates. The spatial variability in recharge rates could provide critical input for policymakers to develop more sustainable groundwater management in India.