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Terms & Synonyms


Official WHO Definition

Water contained beneath the surface in rocks and soil and that accumulates underground in aquifers (Schmoll et al. 2006). The water contained in interconnected pores located (1) below the water table in an unconfined aquifer or (2) in a confined aquifer (Symons et al. 2000).

Other Definitions


Interpretations and Explanations

Definition / Description

Managing groundwater
Managing groundwater

Groundwater is a body of water stored in the underground.

Groundwater can be static ("fossil") as a result of water accumulation in the long past. Usually, however, the groundwater is dynamic. and it flows through an aquifer, or aquifer system, subject to recharge while at the downstream end it discharges into an open water body like a river, a lake, a wetland or the sea. (See also Aquifer types).

Static groundwater reservoirs can be found under large deserts like the Sahara. Exploitation of static groundwater leads to depletion (mining) of the resource.

Dynamic groundwater is usually exploited with wells for irrigation, industry and households. There may be a competition for groundwater.

Environmental impacts

The competition for groundwater often leads to over-exploitation of the aquifer whereby its water level drops and the water resource gets out of the reach of the poor and remains available only to those who have enough capital to sink very deep wells.

When over-exploited, the discharge at the downstream end of the aquifer reduces considerably affecting negatively the downstream water users as well as the ecology. Further, serious land subsidence may occur.

In irrigation projects in (semi)arid regions where groundwater is used abundantly, the groundwater tends to get more salty over time due to the continuous evaporation by which the salt concentration increases slowly but steadily.

In industrial areas and in agricultural lands with ample use of fertilizers and biocides the groundwater can become seriously polluted owing of the infiltration and percolation of contaminated water.

Ideally, the water balance and quality of aquifers is carefully monitored and assessed, and the user rights are determined based on this assessment as well as on socio-political-legal conditions. The establishment of a groundwater flow model can be helpful in this respect.

Unfortunately, proper groundwater management is still in its infancy even in developed countries.


Schmoll, O., Howard, G., Chilton, J., and Chorus, I., eds. 2006. Protecting Groundwater for Health: Managing the Quality of Drinking-water sources.

WHO and IWA, London and Seattle. Symons, J.M., Bradley, L.C. Jr. and Cleveland, T.C. (2000) The Drinking Water Dictionary. American Water Works Association

WHO (2004) Guidelines for drinking-water quality, 3rd ed

WHO Lexicon page (translations and examples)

See also

Internal links:

External Resources

A paper on Groundwater management

Chapter 2 on "Groundwater investigations" in the ILRI publication 16 on "Drainage Principles and Applications"

Software on groundwater drainage

Free download of spatial-agro-hydro-salinity groundwater model (SahysMod) and and explanatory paper


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