Groundwater depletion is a serious threat to the environment. The majority of our bodies and the Earth is made up of water. We may see the beautiful, flowing surface waters that make up the oceans, lakes and rivers, but this water is not always safe for consumption and is much more difficult to filter than groundwater. Consequently, water from the ground is especially valuable.
Groundwater is something that we need all over the world. Humans and animals need water in order to survive as our bodies could not function without it. We also need water to assist us in growing crops, powering equipment, and to keep us comfortable. Societies require much more clean water than we are afforded from precipitation and surface water, which is why groundwater is used so frequently.
If you were to see groundwater moving, you’ll likely find it interesting that so much water lies beneath us. From a bird’s eye view, you may even feel that there is more than enough water to go around. While we know that groundwater shortage is a serious issue, we should also know how water naturally finds its way into the aquifers we extract it from.
Nature goes through a unique process to provide us with groundwater. The surface water that we can see is heated by the Sun and goes into the atmosphere as evaporation. Water vapor then creates precipitation, water that falls from the sky as rain and snow. Once water falls from sky and onto the ground, it is absorbed into the Earth and is then stored as groundwater in aquifers.
Causes of Groundwater Depletion
1. Groundwater depletion most commonly occurs because of the frequent pumping of water from the ground. We pump the water more quickly than it can renew itself, leading to a dangerous shortage in the groundwater supply. As a growing world with a population that continues to rise, the more we pump water from the ground at a rapid rate, the more difficult it is for the groundwater to provide us with the amount of water that we need.
2. We continuously pump groundwater from aquifers and it does not have enough time to replenish itself. Water flows freely through the saturated rocks known as aquifers. There are large and small aquifers, and they are the underground water reserves that absorb water and hold it, enabling us to pump it for use.
The amount of water that aquifers hold is beyond impressive and can provide us with billions of gallons of water per day. While this amount of water seems plentiful, groundwater is a major contributor to the Earth’s freshwater supply and is responsible for providing up to 40% of freshwater in the world. Therefore, it doesn’t have the ability to recollect quickly enough to be continually sourced for our use.
3. Agricultural needs require a large amount of groundwater. It’s frightening to think that there isn’t very much groundwater left when you consider how much water we use on a daily basis to support our population of billions and our personal lifestyles. A large amount of groundwater goes to farming, but the availability of groundwater is steadily declining.
Without it, it will be extremely difficult to provide drinking water and water for crops and animals that would help communities during times of drought. The less water that is available, the less food we have and we will be faced with the issue of great demand and very little supply.
4. Groundwater depletion can also occur naturally. The problems we would face with freshwater shortage is sure to cause problems in every aspect of our lives. The activities that lead to groundwater depletion come mostly from humans, but a portion of it also comes from changes in our climate and can speed up the process.
Effects of Groundwater Depletion
1. Groundwater depletion will force us to pump water from deeper within the Earth. The more we extract groundwater right below the Earth’s surface, the further down we have to go in order to get more. As we have to extract water from deeper within the Earth, we find that there is less water available. Consequently, we will have to use even more resources to develop alternative methods to reach further into the ground.
2. Large bodies of water will become more shallow from groundwater depletion. A groundwater shortage keeps additional water from flowing into lakes, rivers and seas. This means that over time, less water will enter as the existing surface water continues to evaporate. As the water becomes less deep, it will affect everything in that particular region, including fish and wildlife.
3. Saltwater contamination can occur. We may pump groundwater instead of sourcing it from lakes and rivers, but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t connected to larger bodies of water. Groundwater that is deep within the ground often intermingles with saltwater that we shouldn’t drink. When freshwater mixes with saltwater, it is called saltwater contamination. This sort of contamination would raise the prices of drinking water for everyone because it will cost much more to pump and filter.
4. As large aquifers are depleted, food supply and people will suffer. The depletion of the Colorado River and the Ogallala aquifer serve as examples of large groundwater reserves that are being depleted, despite how necessary they are to our economy and well-being. The Ogallala aquifer has been collecting groundwater for thousands of years, and its water resources have to be shared among farmers and citizens.
Water from the Ogallala aquifer is used for irrigation throughout the Great Plains. So much water is being taken from this aquifer that there is no time for it to refill. Unfortunately, strict orders are not in place to regulate how much water can be pumped from this reservoir, which could have a devastating effect on the crops and people who live there.
5. A lack of groundwater limits biodiversity and dangerous sinkholes result from depleted aquifers. Aquifers collect groundwater and are extremely important. For example, the residents near the Gulf of Mexico and Mexico City rely solely on aquifers. Wildlife, marine animals, and agriculture continues to suffer near the Gulf of Mexico because the Mississippi River runoff from industrial farming materials finds its way into the water. Parts of Mexico City are falling as the water table lowers and creates sinkholes that destroy buildings and homes.
Solutions to Groundwater Depletion
1. As individuals, one of the things we can do to make a difference is to use less water for luxury purposes. We must all address the issue of groundwater depletion. Considering the impending crisis of a mass water shortage, everyone should do their part to use less water whenever possible. Water is used so freely that it is often part of outdoor decor ideas and used for major attractions, such as amusement parks.
Throughout countless neighborhoods, large amounts of water are used for swimming pools while water hoses are kept running to wash cars and for other miscellaneous reasons. We conserve water when we turn off the faucet and reduce our usage of washing machines, dishwashers and similar appliances. Also, we save a massive amount of water by deciding not to use water for decorative and unnecessary reasons at home.
2. We should reduce our use of chemicals and dispose of them properly. Many people are not paying attention and are simply unaware of how important it is to keep pollution from occurring beneath the ground. The water from businesses and private residences that run into the streets and sewage systems are commonly laden with chemicals. These chemicals find their way into larger bodies of water and absorb into the ground, poisoning animals and the soil. By using less chemicals and discarding of them carefully, we keep them from adding toxic materials into our water supply.
3. More comprehensive research and additional funding can help with groundwater depletion. The best way to approach the topic of groundwater depletion and to find a solution is to think on both a personal and government level. Laws that are in place for the pumping of groundwater should be more strict and follow specific regulations.
There are many scientists, researchers, and sustainable companies that remind us how important it is to know the amount of groundwater we actually have. They also believe that many of the policies we have should be changed with the consideration of saving groundwater in mind instead of treating it like an endless resource.
4. One of the most effective ways to address the issue of groundwater depletion is to find alternative sources of water. Alternative water sources can be used to help replenish aquifers. Deriving water from other sources would also give aquifers time to refill instead of pumping too much water from them at once.
5. The pumping of groundwater should be regulated. If we don’t have a better understanding of our groundwater supply, then we can easily use much more than we should. Understandably, more funding should be granted towards researching our groundwater supply instead of just pumping the water, so that we can set limits and better pace our usage. Additional funding should be given to support initiatives that not only study the supply of groundwater we have, but also seek to find sustainable ways to use less of it.