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Natural Resource Degradation - Surface and Groundwater Degradation
                                                                                                    December 19, 2017

Surface and Groundwater Degradation

India consists 1/25th of world’s water resources. The total utilizable water resources of the country are assessed as 1086 km3. A brief description of surface and groundwater water resources of India is given below.

Surface Water Resource

• India’s average annual surface run-off generated by rainfall and snowmelt is estimated to be about 1869 Billion Cubic Meter (BCM). However, it is estimated that only about 690 BCM or 37 per cent of the surface water resources can actually be mobilised.

This is because:
– Over 90 per cent of the annual flow of the Himalayas rivers occur over a four month period and
– Potential to capture such resources is complicated by limited suitable storage reservoir sites.
• The main source of surface water is precipitation.
• About 20 percent part of the precipitation evaporates and mixes with the environment.
• The large part of surface water is found in rivers, riverlets, ponds and lakes. Remaining water flows into the seas, oceans. Water found on the surface is called surface water.
• About two–third of the total surface water flows into three major rivers of the country – Indus, Ganges and Brahmaputra’s. The water storage capacity of reservoirs constructed in India so far is about 17,400 billion cubic metres.
• The storage capacity of usable water in the Ganges basin is the maximum, but in spite of maximum annual flow, the storage capacity of usable water is the least in Brahmaputra’s basin.
• The storage capacity in Godavari, Krishna, Mahanadi and Indus is sufficient.
• If storage capacity of usable water is seen in terms of ratio, then of Tapi river basin is 97 percent.

Ground Water Resources

A lot of the Earth’s water is found underground in soil or under rock structures called aquifers. Groundwater pollution is often caused by pesticide contamination from the soil, this can infect the drinking water and cause huge problems.

The total Annual Replenishable ground water resources of the Country have been estimated as 431 Billion Cubic Meter (BCM).

Keeping 35 BCM for natural discharge, the net annual ground water availability for the entire Country is 396 BCM. The Annual ground water draft is 243 BCM out of which 221 BCM is for irrigation use and 22 BCM is for domestic & industrial use.


• Water is an easy solvent, enabling most pollutants to dissolve in it easily and contaminate it. The most basic effect of water pollution is directly suffered by the organisms and vegetation that survive in water, including amphibians.
• Each day over 1000 children die of diarrheal sickness in India and the numbers have only increased alarming in the last five years. Water is polluted by both natural as well as man-made activities. Volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, Tsunamis etc are known to alter water and contaminate it, also affecting ecosystems that survive under water.
• The abuse of lakes, ponds, oceans, rivers, reservoirs etc. is water pollution. Pollution of water occurs when substances that will modify the water in negative fashion are discharged in it. This discharge of pollutants can be direct as well as indirect.
• The groundwater utilisation is very high in the states of Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan, and Tamil Nadu.
• However, there are States like Chhattisgarh, Odisha, Kerala, etc., which utilise only a small proportion of their groundwater potentials. States like Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Tripura and Maharashtra are utilising their ground water resources at a moderate rate.
• If the present trend continues, the demands for water would need the supplies. And such situation, will be detrimental to development, and can cause social upheaval and disruptions


There are various classifications of water pollution. The two chief sources of water pollution can be seen as Point and Non Point:
• Point refers to the pollutants that belong to a single source. An example of this would be emissions from factories into the water.
• Non Point on the other hand means pollutants emitted from multiple sources. Contaminated water after rains that has traveled through several regions may also be considered as a Non point source of pollution.

Causes of Water Pollution

Industrial waste: Industries produce huge amount of waste which contains toxic chemicals and pollutants which can cause air pollution and damage to us and our environment. They contain pollutants such as lead, mercury, sulphur, asbestos, nitrates and many other harmful chemicals. Many industries do not have proper waste management system and drain the waste in the fresh water which goes into rivers, canals and later in to sea. The toxic chemicals have the capability to change the color of water, increase the amount of minerals, also known as Eutrophication, change the temperature of water and pose serious hazard to water organisms.

Sewage and waste water: The sewage and waste water that is produced by each household is chemically treated and released in to sea with fresh water. The sewage water carries harmful bacteria and chemicals that can cause serious health problems. Domestic households, industrial and agricultural practices produce wastewater that can cause pollution of many lakes and rivers.

Pathogens are known as a common water pollutant; the sewers of cities house several pathogens and thereby diseases. Microorganisms in water are known to be causes of some very deadly diseases and become the breeding grounds for other creatures that act like carriers. These carriers inflict these diseases via various forms of contact onto an individual. A very common example of this process would be Malaria.

Religious and Social Practices: Religious faith and social practices also add to pollution of Indian River waters. Carcasses of cattle and other animals are disposed in the rivers. Dead bodies are cremated on the river banks. Partially burnt bodies are also flung into the river. All this is done as a matter of religious faith and in keeping with ancient rituals. These practices pollute the river water and adversely affect the water quality.

Mass bathing in a river during religious festivals is another environmentally harmful practice. The biochemical oxygen demand (BOD) goes up drastically when thousands of people simultaneously take a ‘holy dip’. Religious practices also demand that offerings from a puja be immersed in a river. It is now common to see people immersing offerings in plastic bags. Plastic bags are very dangerous and further add to the pollution load of the river.

Mining activities: Mining is the process of crushing the rock and extracting coal and other minerals from underground. These elements when extracted in the raw form contain harmful chemicals and can increase the amount of toxic elements when mixed up with water which may result in health problems. Mining activities emit several metal waste and sulphides from the rocks and is harmful for the water.

Marine dumping: The garbage produce by each household in the form of paper, aluminum, rubber, glass, plastic, food if collected and deposited into the sea in some countries. These items take from 2 weeks to 200 years to decompose. When such items enter the sea, they not only cause water pollution but also harm animals in the sea.

Accidental Oil leakage: Oil spill pose a huge concern as large amount of oil enters into the sea and does not dissolve with water; there by opens problem for local marine wildlife such as fish, birds and sea otters. For e.g. a ship carrying large quantity of oil may spill oil if met with an accident and can cause varying damage to species in the ocean depending on the quantity of oil spill, size of ocean, toxicity of pollutant.

Burning of fossil fuels: Fossil fuels like coal and oil when burnt produce substantial amount of ash in the atmosphere. The particles which contain toxic chemicals when mixed with water vapor result in acid rain. Also, carbon dioxide is released from burning of fossil fuels which result in global warming.

Chemical fertilizers and pesticides: Chemical fertilizers and pesticides are used by farmers to protect crops from insects and bacteria’s. They are useful for the plants growth. However, when these chemicals are mixed up with water produce harmful for plants and animals. Also, when it rains, the chemicals mixes up with rainwater and flow down into rivers and canals which pose serious damages for aquatic animals.

Leakage from sewer lines: A small leakage from the sewer lines can contaminate the underground water and make it unfit for the people to drink. Also, when not repaired on time, the leaking water can come on to the surface and become a breeding ground for insects and mosquitoes.

Global warming: An increase in earth’s temperature due to greenhouse effect results in global warming. It increases the water temperature and result in death of aquatic animals and marine species which later results in water pollution.

Radioactive waste: Nuclear energy is produced using nuclear fission or fusion. The element that is used in production of nuclear energy is Uranium which is highly toxic chemical. The nuclear waste that is produced by radioactive material needs to be disposed off to prevent any nuclear accident. Nuclear waste can have serious environmental hazards if not disposed off properly. Few major accidents have already taken place in Russia and Japan.

Urban development: As population has grown, so has the demand for housing, food and cloth. As more cities and towns are developed, they have resulted in increased use of fertilizers to produce more food, soil erosion due to deforestation, increase in construction activities, inadequate sewer collection and treatment, landfills as more garbage is produced, increase in chemicals from industries to produce more materials.

Leakage from the landfills: Landfills are nothing but huge pile of garbage that produces awful smell and can be seen across the city. When it rains, the landfills may leak and the leaking landfills can pollute the underground water with large variety of contaminants.

Animal waste: The waste produce by animals is washed away into the rivers when it rains. It gets mixed up with other harmful chemicals and causes various water borne diseases like cholera, diarrhea, jaundice, dysentery and typhoid.

Underground storage leakage: Transportation of coal and other petroleum products through underground pipes is well known. Accidentals leakage may happen anytime and may cause damage to environment and result in soil erosion.

Water pollutants also include both organic and inorganic factors. Organic factors include volatile organic compounds, fuels, waste from trees, plants etc. Inorganic factors include ammonia, chemical waste from factories, discarded cosmetics etc.

The water that travels via fields is usually contaminated with all forms of waste inclusive of fertilizers that it swept along the way. This infected water makes its way to our water bodies and sometimes to the seas endangering the flora, fauna and humans that use it along its path.

The current scenario has led to a consciousness about water preservation and efforts are being made on several levels to redeem our water resources. Industries and factory set-up’s are restricted from contaminating the water bodies and are advised to treat their contaminated waste through filtration methods. People are investing in rain water harvesting projects to collect rainwater and preserve it in wells below ground level.


The major challenges/issues associated with the water resources management and development in the country is varied and complex and could be categorized as follows:

Natural situation (Tropical Monsoon climate) – Causes large scale spatial and temporal variation in water availability, recurring droughts and frequent floods.

Human, Managerial and Developmental challenges – These is increasing water demand and falling per capita availability, water use and energy efficiency, deterioration of water quality, reduction or deterioration of available resources (loss of surface storage), increasing competition/conflict within sectors, under and inefficient utilization of irrigation potential, over exploitation and depletion of ground water resources, water-logging and soil salinity in irrigated lands, fragmentation of management of water/ management of shared resources, lack of spatial inventory for large number of water infrastructure in the country, currently used water resources potential estimates are old, significant change in land use / land cover, demographic and utilization pattern in past few decades.

Climate change impact – Addressing the impact of climate change on water availability and economy. Analysis of scenarios for impacts on resources and use is required to evaluate water policies.
Water Pollution is common, and is an area of high alert. Water needs to be preserved undermining the sustainable development as concerns.