Karst waters in potable water supply: a global scale overview
Karst aquifers are one of the main potable water sources worldwide. Although the exact global karst water utilisation figures cannot be provided, this study represents an attempt to make an upgraded assessment of earlier and often circulated data. The main objective of the undertaken analysis is not only to provide an assessment of the utilisation of current karst aquifers, but also to estimate possible trends under various impact factors such as population growth or climate changes. In > 140 countries, different types of karstified rocks crop out over some 19.3 × 106 km2, covering > 14% of ice-free land. The main ‘karst countries’, those with > 1 × 106 km2 of karst surface are Russia, USA, China and Canada, while among those with > 80% of the territories covered by karst are Jamaica, Cuba, Montenegro and several others. In contrast, in a quarter of the total number of countries, karstic rocks are either totally absent or have a minor extension, meaning that no karst water sources can be developed. Although the precise number of total karst water consumers cannot be defined, it was assessed in 2016 at approximately 678 million or 9.2% of the world’s population, which is twice less than what was previously estimated in some of the reports. With a total estimated withdrawal of 127 km3/year, karst aquifers are contributing to the total global groundwater withdrawal by about 13%. However, only around 4% of the estimated average global annually renewable karstic groundwater is currently utilised, of which < 1% is for drinking purposes. Although often problematic because of unstable discharge regimes and high vulnerability to pollution, karst groundwater represents the main source of potable water supply in many countries and regions. Nevertheless, engineering solutions are often required to ensure a sustainable water supply and prevent negative consequences of groundwater over-extraction.