Global water resources and the role of groundwater in a resilient water future

Bridget R. Scanlon*, Sarah Fakhreddine, Ashraf Rateb, Inge de Graaf, Jay Famiglietti, Tom Gleeson, R.Q. Grafton, Esteban Jobbagy, Seifu Kebede, Seshagiri Rao Kolusu, Leonard F. Konikow, Di Long, Mesfin Mekonnen, Hannes Mueller Schmied, Abhijit Mukherjee, Alan MacDonald, Robert C. Reedy, Mohammad Shamsudduha, Craig T. Simmons, Alex SunRichard G. Taylor, Karen G. Villholth, Charles J. Vörösmarty, Chunmiao Zheng

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

183 Citations (Scopus)


Water is a critical resource, but ensuring its availability faces challenges from climate extremes and human intervention. In this Review, we evaluate the current and historical evolution of water resources, considering surface water and groundwater as a single, interconnected resource. Total water storage trends have varied across regions over the past century. Satellite data from the Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) show declining, stable and rising trends in total water storage over the past two decades in various regions globally. Groundwater monitoring provides longer-term context over the past century, showing rising water storage in northwest India, central Pakistan and the northwest United States, and declining water storage in the US High Plains and Central Valley. Climate variability causes some changes in water storage, but human intervention, particularly irrigation, is a major driver. Water-resource resilience can be increased by diversifying management strategies. These approaches include green solutions, such as forest and wetland preservation, and grey solutions, such as increasing supplies (desalination, wastewater reuse), enhancing storage in surface reservoirs and depleted aquifers, and transporting water. A diverse portfolio of these solutions, in tandem with managing groundwater and surface water as a single resource, can address human and ecosystem needs while building a resilient water system.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)87-101
Number of pages15
JournalNature Reviews Earth and Environment
Publication statusPublished - 31 Jan 2023


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