Where is Our Groundwater Going?

07:55PM Nov 06, 2014
drought beans
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Earth’s groundwater may be under some serious strain, according to NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory hydrologist James Famiglietti, whose commentary on the matter was recently published in the journal Nature Climate Change.

“Precipitation, snowmelt, and streamflow are no longer enough to supply the multiple, competing demands for society’s water needs,” he writes. “Because the gap between supply and demand is routinely bridged with non-renewable groundwater, even more so during drought, groundwater supplies in some major aquifers will be depleted in a matter of decades. The myth of limitless water and the free-for-all mentality that has pervaded groundwater use must now come to an end.”

Famiglietti suggests the first step to a solution is admitting the problem exists. He says smarter farming practices will be a likely target once society is committing to change. The agricultural industry accounts for about 80% of water use globally.

In particular, Famiglietti is concerned with the rapid depletion of most of the major aquifers in the world’s arid and semi-arid zones. These are the parts of the world that depend the most on groundwater – including the High Plains and Central Valley aquifers of the U.S. More than half of the water losses in the Central Valley can be attributed to groundwater pumping, he says.

“Even modest gains in agricultural efficiency will result in tremendous volumes of groundwater saved, or of water available for the environment or other human uses such as municipalities, energy production, industry and economic growth,” he says. “If we work together, we can manage our way through to ensure a sustainable water future.”

In the video below, Famiglietti goes into much greater detail about the various factors at play in the looming global water crisis.