Since the nineteen fifties, groundwater levels in the Netherlands dropped more than as simulated by hydrological models. In the rural sandy part of the Netherlands, the difference amounts to approximately 0.3 m on average. The answer to the question of what or who caused this ‘background decline’ of groundwater tables may have juridical and financial consequences, especially since Dutch farmers are entitled to financial compensation for crop damage caused by groundwater abstractions. In our forensic study, we investigated how anthropogenic changes in groundwater recharge from 1950 to 2010 affected groundwater levels. In this period, crop yields in agriculture have risen sharply, and, because crop water use is proportionate to crop production, this led to more crop evapotranspiration and subsequently less groundwater recharge. Urban expansion and forestation has also led to a decrease in groundwater recharge. We showed that these changes in recharge may have caused a decline of groundwater of 0.2–0.3 m over 60 years (1950–2010). The simulated drawdown caused by groundwater abstractions appeared to depend on the amount of groundwater recharge related to land use and crop yield. This means that to properly evaluate the effects of a particular groundwater abstraction, one should account for the hydrological history of the landscape since the start of that abstraction.
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