In many areas of the world, humanity has relied on underground water to sustain communities and agriculture in areas that would otherwise be inhospitable. Most of this water comes from aquifers which is porous rock or gravel, sand, silt, or clay where water has accumulated.
As with so many other gifts of nature that we’ve abused, underground water is too becoming a threatened resource. Wells are running totally dry in many parts of the world or having to be dug deeper – and consequently more energy is needed used to extract the elixir of life.
Underground water also feeds many springs that flow into rivers. When the springs go dry, river flows are also reduced.
Lester R. Brown, the author of “Plan B 2.0: Rescuing a Planet Under Stress and a Civilization in Trouble” (which is a must-read document in my opinion) has outlined the scope of the problem in a new report, “Water Tables Falling And Rivers Running Dry“. If you don’t have time to read it, here’s a summary of how fast the water table is dropping in some parts of the world:
North Gujarat, India – falling by 6 meters (20 feet) per year
Islamabad/Rawalpindi, Pakistan – falling 1 to nearly 2 meters a year.
Baluchistan, Quetta, – falling by 3.5 meters per year
Chenaran Plain, Iran – falling by 2.8 meters per year
Yemen – falling by roughly 2 meters a year
Guanajuato, Mexico falling by 2 meters or more a year
Some of the above aquifers are sustaining millions of people, plus industry. When they do finally run dry, I hate to think what will happen.
Mr. Brown also cites many other disturbing examples of excessive water drawing rates in other parts of the world and the consequences this has had on the local and wider environment.
The water in aquifers has sometimes taken thousands of years to accumulate and recharging what’s drawn away is a very slow process. We simply drag too much out, too quickly.
I’ve seen so many instances of this here in South Australia. A couple of months back I was looking at bush blocks in the area; mostly old farms that had been abandoned and subdivided. Many of these blocks had old wells on them. You could see how close to the surface the water was when the well was originally dug, then evidence of further work undertaken to dig deeper.. and then deeper again, until continuing was fruitless and all that’s left is a dry gaping hole in the ground. From what I could tell, this likely occurred within a single generation.
On one block a windmill driven bore had been sunk next to an abandoned well. I have no idea how deep that bore was, but even though it was still drawing water, it was so salty that it was practically useless.
My own block was a similar story. I was planning on sinking a bore to extract a little water to help sustain the native trees I was planting. I talked to some of the local farmers about my prospects and estimated costs. They told me that a few years back I could probably get away with sinking a bore 45 meters down, but it would now mean drilling at least 90 meters – probably costing about $10,000 in total; and the quality of the water would be rather poor anyway.
I decided not to go ahead and it was probably lucky that I didn’t. Shortly afterwards, a large potato farm owned by a major company was established some miles away that relied heavily on ground water for irrigation. Within a very brief time after it commenced operations, many of the bores over a wide area suddenly ran dry; literally overnight.
It was only then the government stepped in to heavily regulate the extraction of groundwater – but it was too little, too late for many established farmers unfortunately. Their water is gone.