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Sources of Irrigation Water - Ground Water & Surface Water

By: Haseeb Jamal / On: Aug 31, 2017 / Irrigation Engineering
Sources of Irrigation Water

Irrigation is a vital component of agricultural practices, enabling farmers to provide water to their crops and ensure optimal growth and productivity. The availability and accessibility of water for irrigation purposes depend on various sources, with two primary sources being groundwater and surface water. Understanding the characteristics, advantages, and challenges associated with these sources is essential for effective water management in agriculture.


Groundwater refers to the water that is stored beneath the Earth's surface in aquifers, which are layers of permeable rock or soil that hold and transmit water. It is typically accessed through wells or tube wells. Groundwater is a significant source of irrigation water, particularly in regions where surface water is scarce or unreliable.

Advantages of Groundwater for Irrigation:

  1. Reliability: Groundwater is relatively more dependable compared to surface water as it is not directly affected by seasonal variations or drought conditions.
  2. Consistency: Groundwater levels tend to remain relatively stable, providing a consistent supply of water throughout the year.
  3. Quality: Groundwater is generally of high quality as it undergoes natural filtration through the soil, reducing the presence of contaminants.
  4. Accessibility: With wells distributed strategically, farmers can access groundwater directly on their land, reducing the need for extensive irrigation infrastructure.

Challenges of Groundwater for Irrigation:

  1. Depletion: Over-extraction of groundwater can lead to aquifer depletion, causing water tables to drop and wells to run dry.
  2. Salinization: In some regions, excessive pumping of groundwater can lead to the intrusion of saline water, making it unsuitable for irrigation.
  3. Cost: Developing and maintaining groundwater extraction infrastructure can be expensive, especially in areas where water tables are deep.

Surface Water:

Surface water refers to the water found in rivers, lakes, reservoirs, and other open water bodies. It is a common source of irrigation water, especially in regions with abundant rainfall or well-developed water storage systems.

Advantages of Surface Water for Irrigation:

  1. Abundance: Surface water sources are typically larger in volume and can provide a significant and consistent supply of water for irrigation.
  2. Cost-effectiveness: Utilizing surface water can be more cost-effective than extracting groundwater, especially in areas with easily accessible water bodies.
  3. Community Benefits: Surface water resources often serve multiple purposes, such as domestic water supply, hydropower generation, and ecosystem preservation, benefiting local communities.

Challenges of Surface Water for Irrigation:

  1. Seasonal Variation: Surface water availability can fluctuate significantly with seasonal changes in precipitation, leading to periods of scarcity or excess.
  2. Water Quality: Surface water quality may be compromised by pollution, sedimentation, or the presence of agricultural runoff, requiring additional treatment or management measures.
  3. Infrastructure Needs: Utilizing surface water for irrigation may require the construction of canals, dams, and irrigation networks, which can be capital and maintenance-intensive.

Balancing Groundwater and Surface Water:

Optimal water management often involves a combination of groundwater and surface water sources, depending on local conditions, water availability, and sustainability considerations. Integrated approaches that focus on water conservation, efficient irrigation techniques, and monitoring of water resources can help ensure the long-term viability of both groundwater and surface water for irrigation purposes.

In conclusion, both groundwater and surface water play vital roles as sources of irrigation water. Groundwater provides reliability, consistency, and high-quality water, while surface water offers abundance and community benefits. However, challenges such as depletion, salinization, seasonal variation, and water quality issues need to be addressed. By adopting sustainable practices and implementing effective water management strategies, farmers and policymakers can ensure a reliable and efficient water supply for agricultural irrigation, promoting food security and sustainable development in our communities.

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