Groundwater – Out Of Sight Shouldn’t Be Out Of Mind
I considered having a bore constructed on a previous property I had, but the cost was out of reach for me – and I’m glad it was.
Others in the area had bores that had been supplying their homes and farms for generations. Levels had been dropping, but not alarmingly so until a very large agricultural operation set up shop 5 miles away. Practically overnight, most of the previously existing bores over a very large area ran dry; such was the amount being drawn by the new kid on the block.
Groundwater doesn’t necessarily spend all its time hidden from view. When we see water in rivers, we often don’t consider how that water got there. Depending on the region, it may be rainwater runoff or snow melt – but it also may be heavily dependent on groundwater springs as a feed-in source.
Early in 2012, scientists again sounded the alarm about the very real threat to the Earth’s groundwater supplies due to over-extraction and pollution. Groundwater tables are falling throughout the world and the general quality of this water is also being affected.
According to Australia’s National Centre for Groundwater Research and Training, groundwater currently makes up about 97 per cent of all the available fresh water on the planet and 40% of humanity’s water supplies.
In Australia, most of the groundwater we tap into is from the massive Great Artesian Basin, which covers around 1.7 million square kilometres – getting close to around a quarter of the continent. It was tapping into this resource that allowed Europeans to settle in otherwise inhospitable areas and made arid areas bloom.
It’s hard to fathom that we could have much of an impact on such a massive storage system, but recharge rates of the basin are far less than current extraction rates – and we’re set to more than double our water use by the middle of this century.
Part of the issue is water waste in the form of unregulated and abandoned bores that spill their liquid gold onto the surface of our sunburnt country where much of it evaporates. There has been a push to cap these bores for some years, but addressing that problem alone won’t solve it.
The National Centre for Groundwater Research and Training now says the situation is so dire, we could face major problems with fresh water scarcity within a decade or two. That on top of more severe droughts more often could be a disaster; the likes of which we’ve never seen.
While some of our emergency response measures are desalination plants, that offers little comfort (or water) to flora and fauna outside the cities being serviced – and desalination has its own environmental issues.
As mentioned, this is not a threat unique to Australia. In the USA, over half of all Americans rely on groundwater for drinking – and as many as 800,000 new wells are being drilled a year.
Another threat posed to groundwater supplies comes from fracking for gas, which involves using toxic solutions injected under high pressure underground to break up rock to release gas. The process can contaminate the ground water with the fluids and the gas itself.
What Can We Do?
As individuals, addressing this specific problem is difficult as so much is in the hands of policy-makers. However, the less water we use, the less these underground resources need to be drawn upon – and that is where we can all play a part.
There are many ways to save water in the garden and generally around the home. They range from very basic strategies such as shaving a minute off each shower through to the choice of appliances we buy. For example, if you’re considering buying a washing machine soon, a front loading washing machine can save thousands of litres of water a year and provide power bill savings to boot.
Water will become like electricity in some areas in terms of rapidly escalating costs, so it also makes good financial sense to get water-wise.
It’s also important to sit up and take note of news relating to groundwater and provide support where possible to those trying to address the problem – however you can.
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