Towards sustainable groundwater use: setting long-term goals, backcasting, and managing adaptively

Ground Water. 2012 Jan-Feb;50(1):19-26. doi: 10.1111/j.1745-6584.2011.00825.x. Epub 2011 May 20.


The sustainability of crucial earth resources, such as groundwater, is a critical issue. We consider groundwater sustainability a value-driven process of intra- and intergenerational equity that balances the environment, society, and economy. Synthesizing hydrogeological science and current sustainability concepts, we emphasize three sustainability approaches: setting multigenerational sustainability goals, backcasting, and managing adaptively. As most aquifer problems are long-term problems, we propose that multigenerational goals (50 to 100 years) for water quantity and quality that acknowledge the connections between groundwater, surface water, and ecosystems be set for many aquifers. The goals should be set by a watershed- or aquifer-based community in an inclusive and participatory manner. Policies for shorter time horizons should be developed by backcasting, and measures implemented through adaptive management to achieve the long-term goals. Two case histories illustrate the importance and complexity of a multigenerational perspective and adaptive management. These approaches could transform aquifer depletion and contamination to more sustainable groundwater use, providing groundwater for current and future generations while protecting ecological integrity and resilience.

MeSH terms

  • Conservation of Natural Resources*
  • Environmental Policy
  • Models, Theoretical*
  • Water Wells*