Unmeasured Danger: America’s Hidden Groundwater Crisis
Farmers in the western United States are drilling ever deeper to water their crops. Mainers are concerned with lowered water levels in their wells when water bottlers come to town. Arizonans see the Santa Cruz River withering away. In communities around the country, these citizens are all seeing the effects of a decline in one of our most crucial but least understood natural resources: groundwater.
The water that settles between rocks and dirt under the earth‚ surface after it rains accounts for about 40 percent of our drinking and agricultural water supply. Through the watershed, it links to surface waters, which share sources of water from both above and below the ground. When it disappears, pumping through wells becomes harder and more expensive; rivers, lakes, streams and wetlands dry up; and even the land itself can cave in.
Today, our groundwater resources are disappearing in many parts of the country. In some regions, underground water levels are falling because we are pumping water through wells faster than it is naturally replaced by rainfall. This may permanently damage our aquifers capacity to hold water, and can have broad consequences for our entire freshwater supply.
Because groundwater pools beneath our feet, we do not always register its absence until the effects become drastic. Read our report.
We cannot wait for the visible effects of groundwater depletion to kick in before taking action. The federal government must take action now by supporting nationwide groundwater data collection projects so that we can accurately evaluate the status of our groundwater and take steps to protect it before it is too late.
How much danger are we in? We don’t know. According to the United States Geological Survey, no one has ever comprehensively studied groundwater level declines across the country. Many states collect data on a local level, but vary in how much data they collect and the resources they contribute to such projects. Even when states do collect data, local data can only provide limited information about whole aquifers, which often cross state lines.
Without scientific data on groundwater availability, state water managers cannot make sound decisions about water allocation. That is why scientists, government agencies and non-governmental organizations are asking the federal government to collect groundwater quantity and quality data on a national scale.