The Groundwater Crisis: Why Should I Care?
Groundwater is something that we often forget about. We can’t see it, we don’t really understand a use for it, and we generally “other” it from the water we drink or enjoy at the beach. However, as we all learned in 3rd grade with the water cycle, all water is the same. This means that the trillions of gallons that are stored deep under the surface of the earth in between sand and rock can and will become the water which we drink much quicker than we may think.
So what is groundwater? While it may not be the most glamorous topic, we can go ahead and categorize fresh water into three sections for ease of this illustration. This will give us: drinking water, surface water and ground water. We can say that drinking water is all of the industrially stored water, whether that be in a pipe that has been clarified and prepared to enter your tap, or in a $5 plastic bottle in the CVS refrigerator. Surface water is what immediately comes to mind when you think of fresh water, meaning our lakes, streams and rivers. Ground water, then, is everything else. Massive deposits of water are found directly under our feet, called aquifers, traveling from the clouds deep down below the water table.
Why does this matter to you? Our groundwater sources are at risk. Tens of BILLIONS of gallons of groundwater are extracted from the earth each day in the United States alone, and this water is being used much more rapidly than it is being recharged. While we continue to treat this water as an inexhaustible resource, it takes years for an aquifer to refill just a few inches. That 3rd grade water cycle lesson drilled into our minds that water is a renewable resource, but this is not entirely true. Our view of the seemingly unending supply of safe and clean water must shift to seeing it instead as a privilege, as this may not always be the case.
Industries, particularly the cattle industry and agro-business in the southwest United States, are using this groundwater alarmingly rapidly. If the aquifers run dry, it will take centuries for them to recharge. I can say with a fair amount of certainty that this groundwater crisis, partnered of course will the umbrella issue of climate change, is the largest and most pressing environmental issue facing the world today. Some towns, in the United States and internationally, are already running completely dry. So why is nobody talking about it? Is it because at large ‘groundwater’ sounds so boring?
While it is of course the best way to make environmentalism engaging and accessible to the largest amount of people, we must de-glamorize the concept of eco-advocacy. Issues like the groundwater crisis are happening NOW and we must do what we can to make ourselves care, regardless of how mundane they seem in concept.