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Glossary of hydrogeological terms fundamental to groundwater governance

Working definition of groundwater governance:

Groundwater governance is the process by which groundwater resources are managed through the application of responsibility, participation, information availability, transparency, custom, and rule of law. It is the art if coordinating administrative actions and decision making between and among different jurisdictional levels - one which may be global.
(Adapted after Saunier and Meganck. 2007. Dictionary and Introduction to Global Environmental Governance)


Groundwater: Water present in the earth's crust in a saturated or non-saturated soil, weathered mantel or consolidated rock formation. Groundwater is moving in and out of these relatively "static" geological layers - sometimes making clear cut distinctions between surface and groundwater impossible.

Aquifer: An identifiable geological formation capable of storing and transmitting water in useable quantities. the hydraulic state of the aquifer (whether confined or unconfined) determines the response of the aquifer to development. An aquifer comprises the hosting matrix of rock and the groundwater held between the matrix.

Aquifer development: The process of pumping or exploring groundwater in an aquifer. This can be through pumping or through control of artesian flows or aquifer discharge in seepage zones. The level of development will incur a specific aquifer response which will tend to a new equilibrium level in the long run or result in aquifer exhaustion or the limits of lifting.

Aquifer depletion: The reduction in aquifer storage (in unconfined aquifers) or pressure (in confined aquifers) as a result of development.

Aquifer degradation: the change in groundwater quality brought by the introduction of pollutants into an aquifer or the replacement of groundwater by lower quality water.

Aquifer recharge: The rate at which an aquifer drains to springs, seepage zones (including coastal sabkahs) under natural conditions.

Abstraction: Withdrawals of groundwater from an aquifer against natural flow gradients - the human development of an aquifer. The development of a spring can also be counted as an abstraction for the incremental flow that is released.

Sustainable use: A socio-economic interpretation rather than a physical one that is criteria dependent. Continued access to acceptable quality groundwater in the long term. This has to be distinguished from "sustainable yield" or "safe yield".