Asymmetric impact of groundwater use on groundwater droughts

Wendt, Doris E.; Van Loon, Anne F.; Bloomfield, John P.; Hannah, David M.

Groundwater use affects groundwater storage continuously as the removal of water changes both short-term and long-term groundwater level variation. This has implications for groundwater droughts, i.e. a below-normal groundwater level. The impact of groundwater use on groundwater droughts, however, remains unknown. Hence, the aim of this study is to investigate the impact of groundwater use on groundwater droughts in the absence of actual abstraction data. We present a methodological framework that consists of two approaches. The first approach compared groundwater droughts at monitoring sites that are potentially influenced by abstraction to groundwater droughts at sites that are known to be near natural. Observed groundwater droughts were compared in terms of drought occurrence, duration, and magnitude. The second approach investigated long-term trends in groundwater levels in all monitoring wells. This framework was applied to a case study of the UK, using four regional water management units in which groundwater levels are monitored and abstractions are licensed. Results show two asymmetric responses in groundwater drought characteristics due to groundwater use. The first response is an increase in shorter drought events and is found in three water management units where long-term annual average groundwater abstractions are smaller than recharge. The second response, observed in one water management unit where groundwater abstractions temporarily exceeded recharge, is a lengthening and intensification of groundwater droughts. Analysis of long-term (1984–2014) trends in groundwater levels shows mixed but generally positive trends, while trends in precipitation and potential evapotranspiration are not significant. The overall rising groundwater levels are consistent with changes in water use regulations and with a general reduction in abstractions during the period of investigation. We summarised our results in a conceptual typology that illustrates the asymmetric impact of groundwater use on groundwater drought occurrence, duration, and magnitude. The long-term balance between groundwater abstraction and recharge plays an important role in this asymmetric impact, which highlights the relation between short-term and long-term sustainable groundwater use.

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Wendt, Doris E. / Van Loon, Anne F. / Bloomfield, John P. / et al: Asymmetric impact of groundwater use on groundwater droughts. 2020. Copernicus Publications.

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