Project Partners

Thematic Papers

In an effort to review the global situation of groundwater governance and develop of a Global Groundwater Diagnostic, 11 thematic papers have been prepared. These papers synthesize the current knowledge and experience concerning key economic, policy, institutional, environmental and technical aspects of groundwater management, and address emerging issues and innovative approaches. 

The Thematic Papers are available below in full version as well as in short, Digest version.

The Thematic Papers as well as the project Case Studies are synthezized in a Synthesis Report [PDF].

Additionally, an electronic publication titled “Thematic Papers on Groundwater Governance” containing all thematic papers and their digests as well as the synthesis report has been produced and made available. 

All documents attached for downloading should be the latest ones (Corinne has them, these are the ones used to build the document titled Thematic Papers.

Download [PDF 2,1 MB]

Groundwater Governance Synthesis Report - Draft Edition


People’s initial attitude of taking groundwater - a fundamental natural resource and vital component of our environment - for granted and simply exploiting it according to individual demands had prevailed in most countries of the world until the mid twentieth century. More recently, demographic pressures, economic and technological development and other factors have triggered unprecedented changes in the state of our groundwater systems, which has resulted in a growing awareness as to the finiteness and vulnerability of this critical resource. 

Download Synthesis Report >>

Download [PDF 4,8 MB]

No.1 – Trends in groundwater pollution; trends in loss of groundwater quality and related aquifers services (copy 1)

By Emilio Custodio, Dept. of Geo–Engineering and International Centre for Groundwater Hydrology, Technical University of Catalonia, Barcelona, Spain on behalf of the IAH with support from the IAH Spanish Chapter

The purpose of this Thematic Paper is to review the trends in groundwater quality and pollution, taking into account physical, environmental, institutional and social actors involved in groundwater quality governance. The final goal is to diagnose historical and current issues related to groundwater use under the threat of pollution, and to identify the prospects for improved and sustainable aquifer governance through the prevention and mitigation of the factors that may impact water quality. It is aimed at the macro-view level, based on existing experience from real cases.

Full version >>

Digest version >>

Download [PDF 1,4 MB]

No.2 – Conjunctive use and management of groundwater and surface water

By W R Evans & R Evans (Messrs SKM Australia)

Conjunctive use of groundwater and surface water in an irrigation setting is the process of using water from the two different sources for consumptive purposes. The planned conjunctive use of groundwater and surface water has the potential to offer benefits in terms of economic and social outcomes through significantly increased water use efficiency. It supports greater food and fibre yield per unit of water use, an important consideration within the international policy arena given the critical concerns for food security that prevail in many parts of the world.
This paper explores the reasons underpinning the apparent poor approach to full integration in the management and use of both water sources, and the absence of more coordinated planning.

Full version >>

Digest version >>

Download [PDF 1.7MB]

No.3 – Urban-rural tensions; opportunities for co-management

By Ken W.F. Howard on behalf of the IAH Urban Groundwater Network

Governance and politics have become recognised as integral components of the water crisis, as well as part of its solution. The role of governance has recently acquired significant meaning and attention within the water sector, with the concept evolving from a political taboo in North–South development co-operation dialogue to a fundamental issue at global, national and local levels. The framing of water challenges in terms of governance has allowed a broadening of the water agenda to include the scrutiny of democratization processes, corruption, power imbalances between rich and poor countries and between the rich and the poor. This paper examines urban-rural tensions and opportunities for co-management.

Full version >>

Digest version >>

Download [PDF 1.9 MB]

No.4 – Management of aquifer recharge / discharge processes and aquifer equilibrium states

By Peter Dillon, Enrique Fernandez Escalante, Albert Tuinhof

This paper draws attention to case studies from a range of hydro-geological, climatic and societal settings where innovative management has been conspicuously successful in reversing groundwater storage declines (or increases).
Informing and engaging stakeholders in governance has resulted in more resilient outcomes that take better account of local needs. Importantly, in many settings local action by motivated communities has run ahead of state and national policies and been highly effective in managing groundwater storage, increasing farm incomes and protecting the environment.

Full version >>

Digest version >>

Download [PDF - 1.8MB]

No.5 - Groundwater Policy and Governance

By Robert G. Varady, Frank van Weert, Sharon B. Megdal, Andrea Gerlak, Christine Abdalla Iskandar, and Lily House-Peters. Major editing by Emily Dellinger McGovern.

This paper starts by pointing to the large, remaining gaps in our understanding of how water is an integral part of society and its relationship to the planet’s environment. It recognizes that, at their root, all modes of tapping, distributing, and managing water supplies are the result of organized human effort, usually achieved through institutions. This enterprise was termed governance. The authors address  the role of governance of subsurface water, which according to many practitioners and observers remains largely uncharted, incompletely assessed, and notably uncertain and complex. As a result, because our understanding of groundwater systems is incomplete, the design of suitable approaches to and paradigms for governance is a work in progress. 

Full version >>

Digest version >>

Download [PDF <1 MB]

No.6 – Legal framework for sustainable groundwater governance

By Kerstin Mechlem

Whereas day to day management of groundwater resources takes place within the national sphere, and often at local level, domestic regulatory systems cannot be seen in isolation from international legal frameworks when transboundary aquifers are concerned. In that case international law determines states’ rights and obligations to which domestic law has to be made compatible. The legal framework for groundwater management should provide answers to key questions such as, who can access groundwater, where, for which purposes and under which conditions? How are aquifers protected against depletion and pollution? According to which criteria are the finite resources of non-recharging aquifers to be allocated and protected? Which kind of monitoring and planning tools have to be used? How will private and public interest be balanced and how get stakeholders involved in decision making and management processes?

Full version >>

Digest version >>

Download [PDF <1.8 MB]

No.7 – Trends in local groundwater management institutions / user partnerships

By Marcus Moench, Himanshu Kulkarni and Jacob Burke

The formation of local institutions around groundwater sources has a long legacy. Today, many of these local institutions and related customary habits are still active and relevant where groundwater use is relatively moderate but the advent of the mechanized pump has sometimes changed the situation. Whether the institutional environment has caught up is one question but a more important question to ask is whether customary practices amongst groundwater users (i.e. the specific institutional arrangements) have also caught up (Shah, 2007).
This brief account of groundwater institutions attempts to point to the discernible trends in the evolution of local groundwater management institutions and their effectiveness in sustaining the practice of groundwater use. It looks at the scope for securing benefits through improved governance within institutional arrangements and examines the prospects for implementing such improvement.

Full version >>

Digest version >>

Download [PDF 4.5 MB]

No.8 - Social adoption of groundwater pumping technology and the development of groundwater cultures: governance at the point of abstraction


The last few hundred years, however, have seen rapid advances in water pumping technology that have outstripped the social adjustments to the rules governing the use of the resources. The introduction of appropriate legislation has indeed been uneven given the population and economic demands placed on the groundwater resource base. In some cases, current legislation is conflicted by the impact of government subsidies and promotion to encourage further groundwater abstraction as typified by the biofuel market. This thematic paper examines the historic and on-going development of water lifting technologies and the governance problems and solutions that have arisen from controlled or uncontrolled groundwater abstraction. It also examines legislation to improved pump efficiency and the economics and life cycle costing of borehole pumps.

Full version >>

Digest version >>

No.9 – Macro-economic trends that influence demand for groundwater and related aquifer services

Digest version only >>

Download [PDF- 3.6MB]

No.10 - Governance of the subsurface and groundwater frontier

By Jac van der Gun, Andrea Merla, Michael Jones and Jacob Burke

This Thematic Paper focuses on the conventional and non conventional use of aquifers, encroachment into the subsurface space and the evolution of groundwater "frontiers" to the extent that they impact aquifers and pose new challenges for groundwater governance. Some uses of underground space, such as mining, are not new, but the scale and intensity of mining activity and the environmental consequence of groundwater recovery in abandoned mines are such that groundwater legislation is having to "catch up". The same applies to the controversial use of hydrofracturing (or "tracking") to capture shale gas. Groundwater protection forms the main governance concern when abstracting water, gas and oil resources and when using wells to inject fluids into underground formations. The approach of this paper is to consider the range of cases the underground space is being used, establish a geographical distribution and geological setting of the resource, as well as a timeline covering its exploitation and the necessary legislation to control the beneficial or detrimental impacts of developments.

Full version >>

Digest version >>

Download [PDF - 2.1 MB]

No.11 – Managing the Invisible - Understanding and Improving Groundwater Governance

By Marcus Wijnen, Benedicte Augeard, Bradley Hiller, Christopher Ward and Patrick Huntjens 

This report contains a perhaps bewildering set of issues and recommended actions. But every journey starts with the first steps. The following is a list of entry point activities on how to initiate help to countries to improve groundwater governance. Of course, not all these activities are applicable everywhere, but they are offered as a menu of options presenting a wide range of possible actions. These actions can be implemented independently or as a combination of actions.

  • Engage with the policy makers;
  • Agree with policy makers on investment in groundwater knowledge;
  • Help government to chart a reform path towards better groundwater governance;
  • Help build strong groundwater organizations/departments/agencies; and
  • Identify the scope for collective management, and devise ways to support it.

Full version >>

Download [PDF - 2.3 MB]

No.12 – Groundwater and climate change adaptation

By Craig Clifton, Rick Evans, Susan Hayes, Rafik Hirji, Gabrielle Puz and Carolina Pizarro

Compared to surface water, groundwater is likely to be much more compatible with a variable and changing climate. Relative to surface water, aquifers have the capacity to store large volumes of water and are naturally buffered against seasonal changes in temperature and rainfall. They provide a significant opportunity to store excess water during high rainfall periods, to reduce evaporative losses and to protect water quality. However these opportunities have received little attention, in part because groundwater is often poorly understood and managed.

Full version >>