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Defining Renewable Groundwater Use and Its Relevance to Sustainable Groundwater Management

Cuthbert, MO; Gleeson, T; Bierkens, MFP; Ferguson, G; Taylor, RG; (2023) Defining Renewable Groundwater Use and Its Relevance to Sustainable Groundwater Management. Water Resources Research , 59 (9) , Article e2022WR032831. 10.1029/2022wr032831. Green open access

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Abstract

Groundwater systems are commonly defined as renewable or non‐renewable based on natural fluxes of recharge or on estimates of aquifer storage and groundwater residence time. However, we show here that the principle of capture (i.e., how recharge and discharge change due to pumping) challenges simple definitions so that a groundwater system cannot be renewable or non‐renewable in and of itself, but only with reference to how the groundwater is being used. We develop and propose more hydraulically informed definitions for flux‐renewable and storage‐renewable groundwater use, and a combined definition that encompasses both the flux‐based and storage‐based perspectives such that: renewable groundwater use allows for dynamically stable re‐equilibrium of groundwater levels and quality on human timescales. Further, we show how a matrix of combinations of (a) the ratio of pumping rate to the maximum rate of capture along with (b) the response or recovery timescales implicit in this definition, leads to a useful four‐quadrant framework for characterizing groundwater use, illustrated using case studies from aquifers around the world. Renewable groundwater use may inform pathways to groundwater sustainability, which encompasses a broader set of dimensions (e.g., socio‐political, economic, ecological and cultural) beyond the scope of groundwater science. We propose that separating physically robust definitions of renewable groundwater use from the inherently value‐based language of sustainability, can help bring much needed clarity to wider discussions about sustainable groundwater management strategies, and the role of groundwater science and scientists in such endeavors.

Type: Article
Title: Defining Renewable Groundwater Use and Its Relevance to Sustainable Groundwater Management
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
DOI: 10.1029/2022wr032831
Publisher version: https://doi.org/10.1029/2022wr032831
Language: English
Additional information: © 2023. The Authors. This is an open access article under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits use, distribution and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
UCL classification: UCL
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH > Faculty of S&HS
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH > Faculty of S&HS > Dept of Geography
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/10176322
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