Water Resources Engineering (WRE) connects engineering hydrology and hydraulics with global, economic, environmental, and societal issues. Our student Nicole Miner makes this connection here…

The news article, “Grabbing Water From Future Generations: Many of the world’s aquifers are being pumped dry to support unsustainable agriculture” was reported by National Geographic Daily News on December 19, 2012 in an online post. The article relates to the hydrology domain of WRE and specifically speaks about the magnitude that natural aquifers are being drained. Aquifers around the globe are being drained off at a rate that is much higher than that of the natural recharge rate. Specifically in India, which is the main focus of the article, 46 cubic miles (190 cubic kilometers) of water is being drained from underground. The natural recharging rate is estimated to be 29 cubic miles (120 cubic kilometers) a year. Just to put it into perspective, a cubic kilometer is enough water to fill 400,000 Olympic-size swimming pools. This overdrawing is said to be causing water tables to drop 100 feet in the US in places like Texas, Oklahoma, and Kansas. It is estimated that water tables are dropping by as much as a meter per year in the North China Plain. The article goes on to say that farming is a largest instigator for this over pumping and falling water tables because of wasteful watering techniques.

The amounts presented in this article are startling and it caused questions as to whether or not the dated presented was accurate. After a short search, data from a 2000 USGS publication found that the water table had declined more than 200 feet in states like Arizona.

I found that this article was did not include enough solutions to the over-pumping problem. It stated a solution that would lead to further unsustainable agriculture.

This WRE issue further impacts economics and the environment. Economics is impacted, specifically in India, because land owners are using water sources found on their land to live lives of luxury. Although slowing down or halting pumping would be beneficial, it would put individuals income on hold. This pumping is also going directly to agriculture, which impacts the Indian economics because they export rice, as mentioned in the article.

The environment is directly affected because, like the title says, water is being taken away from future generations. The environment would also be directly affected if readers listened to some of the author’s suggestions to use scientifically modified crops that use less water in order to fix the agriculture problem. Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) are currently in question within the scientifically community, so offer them as a solution is questioning the author’s true purpose for this article.

A paper from 2001 speaks about the economic value of groundwater through examples from New Zealand. The paper goes on to talk about groundwater management in terms of safe yields for New Zealand.

Figure 1:  Pumping Trunk delivering water taken from an aquifer in India

Figure 1: Pumping Trunk delivering water taken from an aquifer in India

Figure 2:  Ground Water Decline Levels in 2000 in the Southwest of the United States

Figure 2: Ground Water Decline Levels in 2000 in the Southwest of the United States

References:

(n.d.). Retrieved from http://pubs.usgs.gov/fs/fs-103-03/

Pearce, F. (2012, December 19). Grabbing water from future generations: Many of the world’s aquifers are being pumped dry to support unsustainable agriculture. National Geographic, Retrieved from http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2012/12/121218-grabbing-water-from-future-generations/

White, P. A. (2001). Groundwaters of new zealand. (pp. 45-75). Wellington North, New Zealand: New Zealand Hydrological Society. Retrieved from http://www.cabdirect.org/abstracts/20033121284.html;jsessionid=8D00DA05B575A59989AB05DD136C8001

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