India faces a turbulent water future. Unless water management practices are changed - and changed soon - India will face a severe water crisis within the next two decades and will have neither the cash to build new infrastructure nor the water needed by its growing economy and rising population.
Some regions are facing with poor water supply services, farmers and urban dwellers alike have resorted to helping themselves by pumping out groundwater through tube wells. Today, 70 percent of India's irrigation needs and 80 percent of its domestic water supplies come from groundwater. Although this ubiquitous practice has been remarkably successful in helping people to cope in the past, it has led to rapidly declining water tables and critically depleted aquifers, and is no longer sustainable.
A number of areas are already in crisis situations among these are the most populated and economically productive parts of the country. Estimates reveal that by 2020, India's demand for water will exceed all sources of supply. Not withstanding the catastrophic consequences of indiscriminate pumping of groundwater, government actions - including the provision of free power - have exacerbated rather than addressed the problem.
Severe water shortages have already led to a growing number of conflicts across the country. Some 90 percent of India's territory is drained by inter-state rivers. The lack of clear allocation rules, and uncertainty about what water each state has a right to, imposes high economic and environmental costs. Other federal countries which face water scarcity have clearly defined water rights. These include Chile, Mexico, Australia, and South Africa, with Pakistan and China fast putting in place systems of water entitlements.
Sewage and waste water from rapidly growing cities and effluents from industries have turned many rivers, including major ones (i.e. Sacred river Ganga), into fetid sewers. Massive investments are needed in sewers and wastewater treatment plants to protect people's health and improve the environment.
Climate change projections show that India's water problems are only likely to worsen. With more rain expected to fall in fewer days and the rapid melting of glaciers - especially in the western Himalayas - India will need to gear up to tackle the increasing incidence of both droughts and floods.