Causes and effects of ground water contamination

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The government recognized the need to modernize the regulatory framework for accessing groundwater soon after massive expansion in mechanical pumping led to the realization that recharge could not keep pace with use.


  • The measures proposed were in keeping with the policy paradigm of the early 1970s when a model Bill was first introduced.
  • A new regulatory regime for groundwater that provides for equitable use is urgently needed to address the problem of water crisis in India
  • The water tables have been falling rapidly in many parts of the country, indicating that use generally exceeds replenishment.

Ground water pollution:

  • Groundwater is water present below the ground surface that saturates the pore space in the subsurface.
  • Groundwater is one of the most important sources of water for irrigation. But, groundwater is susceptible to pollutants. Groundwater contamination occurs when man-made products such as gasoline, oil, road salts, and chemicals get into the groundwater and cause it to become unsafe and unfit for human use.

Present situation:

  • Over the past decade, the situation has become increasingly dire not only in states where water tables are falling but also in those that are less affected by quantity concerns.
  • The quality of the water pumped is increasingly becoming cause for concern.

Sources of ground water pollution:

  • Most concern over groundwater contamination has centered on pollution associated with human activities.
  • Human groundwater contaminationcan be related to waste disposal (private sewage disposal systems, land disposal of solid waste, municipal wastewater, wastewater impoundments, land spreading of sludge, brine disposal from the petroleum industry, mine wastes, deep-well disposal of liquid wastes, animal feedlot wastes,
  • Pesticides, fertilizers, herbicides and animal waste are agricultural sources of groundwater contamination
  • Manufacturing and service industries have high demands for cooling water, processing water and water for cleaning purposes.
  • Groundwater pollution occurs when used water is returned to the hydrological cycle.
  • Residential wastewater systems can be a source of many categories of contaminants, including bacteria, viruses, nitrates from human waste, and organic compounds

Other sources of ground water pollution:

  1. Storage Tanks

May contain gasoline, oil, chemicals, or other types of liquids and they can either be above or below ground.

  1. Septic Systems
  • Onsite wastewater disposal systems used by homes, offices or other buildings that are not connected to a city sewer system.
  1. Uncontrolled Hazardous Waste

Hazardous waste sites can lead to groundwater contamination if there are barrels or other containers lying around that are full of hazardous materials.

  1. Landfills

Landfills are the places that our garbage is taken to be buried. Landfills are supposed to have a protective bottom layer to prevent contaminants from getting into the water.

  1. Chemicals and Road Salts

The widespread use of chemicals and road salts is another source of potential groundwater contamination. Chemicals include products used on lawns and farm fields to kill weeds and insects and to fertilize plants, and other products used in homes and businesses.

  1. Atmospheric Contaminants

Since groundwater is part of the hydrologic cycle, contaminants in other parts of the cycle, such as the atmosphere or bodies of surface water, can eventually be transferred into our groundwater supplies.

Dangers of contaminated groundwater:

  • On health:
  • Drinking contaminated groundwater can have serious health effects.
  • Diseases such as hepatitis and dysentery may be caused by contamination from septic tank waste.
  • Poisoning may be caused by toxins that have leached into well water supplies.
  • Wildlife can also be harmed by contaminated groundwater.
  • Other long term effects such as certain types of cancer may also result from exposure to polluted water.

2On economy

When groundwater becomes contaminated, the economy can also easily suffer:

  • Depreciating value of land. When groundwater becomes more contaminated in a given area, that area becomes less capable of sustaining human, animal, and plant life. If the area is known for its natural beauty and that nature begins to suffer the effects of pollution, the chances of people wanting to live there decrease even more. Although it might not be an immediate result of groundwater pollution, the depreciation of land value is definitely a potential side effect.
  • Less stable industry. Many industries rely on groundwater to help produce their products and keep their factories running smoothly. Since the pH and quality of groundwater from a given area rarely changes, it becomes a vital part of many industries that rely on water they don’t have to constantly test.
  • On Environment

Last but certainly not least, the environment can be seriously altered when groundwater is polluted. Here are just some of the ways in which this occurs.

  • Nutrient pollution. Groundwater pollution can cause certain types of nutrients that are necessary in small amounts to become far too abundant to sustain normal life in a given ecosystem. Fish might start dying off quickly because they are no longer able to process the water in their water supplies, and other animals might become sick from too much of certain types of nutrients in the water they drink.
  • Toxic water in ecosystems. When groundwater that supplies lakes, rivers, streams, ponds, and swamps becomes contaminated, this slowly leads to more and more contamination of the surface water as well.


Problems associated with present system of ground water are:

  • The law and policy measures to address it remain insufficient.
  • The primary source of domestic water and irrigation is groundwater but the policymakers often focus on surface water.
  • One of the underlying reasons for excessive use of groundwater is the legal framework governing access to the resource.
  • The states that now have groundwater legislation based on the model Bill conceptualized in 1970 have on the whole failed to manage to address the problem of falling water tables due to increasing use.
  • The measures proposed by the government were in keeping with the policy paradigm of the early 1970s when a Model Bill was first introduced.
  • It focused on adding some state-level control over new, additional uses of groundwater but did not address the iniquitous regime giving landowner’s unlimited control over groundwater.
  • There is no provision in the existing legal regime to protect and conserve groundwater at the aquifer level.
  • The legal regime fails to give gram sabhas and panchayats a prevailing say in the regulation of what is essentially a local resource, the present framework remains mostly top-down and is incapable of addressing local situations adequately.
  • The present legal regime has clearly failed to address the growing multiple crisis of groundwater.

Government initiatives:

  • The problem of groundwater crisis has been officially recognized since at least the beginning of this decade, in the Planning Commission and more recently by the Ministry of Water Resource, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation.
  • The government initiated the Groundwater (Sustainable Management) Bill, 2017, which is based on present understanding of groundwater and its links with surface water and on the legal framework as it has evolved since the 19th century

About Groudnwater Bill, 2017

  • The bill proposes a different regulatory framework from the century-old, outdated, inequitable and environmentally unfriendly legal regime in place.
  • It is based on the recognition of the unitary nature of water, the need for decentralized control over groundwater and the necessity to protect it at aquifer level.
  • The bill is also based on legal developments that have taken place in the past few decades. This includes the recognition that water is a public trust, recognition of the fundamental right to water and the introduction of protection principles, including the precautionary principle, that are presently absent from water legislation.
  • The bill also builds on the decentralization mandate that is already enshrined in general legislation but has not been implemented effectively as far as groundwater is concerned and seeks to give regulatory control over groundwater to local users.
  • The proposed new regime will benefit the resource, for instance through the introduction of groundwater security plans, and will benefit the overwhelming majority of people through local decision-making.


  • A new regulatory regime for the source of water that provides domestic water to around four-fifths of the population and the overwhelming majority of irrigation is urgently needed.
  • In many place, the situation is now so grave that regulatory action is unavoidable.
  • Environmental Awareness Programs including groundwater prevention should be implemented for community.
  • Innovative technologies are available for the groundwater remediation, for several common contaminants including EDC and Other Chlorinated Compounds, MTBE, and Ammonia. These technologies can be adopted.
  • Minimize use of house hold chemicals containing hazardous substances
  • Avoid draining chemicals, motor oil, insecticides in community areas
  • Reduce pesticide application


Groundwater is one of our most important sources of water for irrigation. Groundwater contamination is a serious problem. Water scarcity puts lives at risk. In addition, many industries rely on water as a resource, which means water contamination threatens their supply chains. Governments, business and communities should all take necessary action to protect this valuable resource.



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