New Delhi: The government will boost spending to map underground water resources more than seven-fold to Rs3,300 crore ($552 million) as the overuse of wells depletes aquifers, an official said.

“This increase in spending is unheard of," Sushil Gupta, chairman of central ground water board, said on Tuesday in New Delhi. “But it was required. Now we need to shift our focus on not just development but also management. India spent Rs450 crore in the five years ended April 2012 on groundwater in comparison," he said.

Mapping aquifers, or underground reservoirs, is expected to help India better manage crop usage and ensure drinking water for its population. The water board plans to raise the scale of geographic area to be mapped from 1:250,000 to 1:50,000 for more accurate readings, Gupta said. Data will be made available publicly for farmers to improve water-resource management and for companies’ planning strategies, he said.

At least 85% of the country’s villages and half of its cities rely on wells for water. Farming accounts for about 90% of water withdrawals in India, with irrigated acreage almost tripling since 1950. The government’s goal is to avert a water crisis in a country where agriculture accounts for 20% of the $1.9 trillion economy, Mihir Shah, member of the Planning Commission that sets five-year targets for economic growth, said last year.

Groundwater Loss

India lost groundwater supplies equal to more than twice the capacity of Lake Mead, the biggest US reservoir located in Nevada and Arizona, because of indiscriminate use from 2002-2008, according to a US National Aeronautical and Space Agency study.

Gupta also heads the Central Ground Water Authority established by the government to regulate pumping from aquifers. Groundwater hasn’t been developed evenly across the country, and exploitation has led to a drop in water levels and seawater intrusion in some areas, according to the ministry of water resources. Of 5,723 sites assessed, it said 839 are over-exploited, 226 critical and 550 semi-critical. Bloomberg

Rakteem Katakey in New Delhi contributed to this story.