Somewhere in the midst of your elementary years, your teacher pulled out a colorful diagram and taught you and your peers about the water cycle. The lesson likely left you with this general concept. Water falls from the clouds in the sky, in the form of rain. The water then evaporates before condensing into clouds once again, completing the cycle. I don’t want to blame teachers but I believe this is where the misconception of infinite water comes from. People leisurely waste water because they believe that it will simply return them in a matter of moments. Today, I’ll add the details your teacher left and hopefully to join water conservation efforts.
Chances are you use groundwater from an aquifer. An aquifer is essentially an underground lake. Although we can’t see the water beneath our feet, groundwater accounts for about 1/2 of household water use worldwide. When we extract water from aquifers, we are basically hoping that the aquifer will recharge(be refilled with water) by the next time we got the well. As you can probably imagine, water gets into aquifers by seeping through the soil after precipitation events. As soils tend to vary greatly by region, the average movement of water through soil in the United States is between 10 and 1200mm/yr. For all my fellow Americans, that amounts to between 0.4 to 47in/yr. If you live in an area like Portland, Oregon where the aquifer lies about 30 meters(about 100ft) below the surface, the best case scenario would be water reaching the aquifer in about three years. Keep in mind that this process can take much longer depending on the type of soil, amount of rainfall, and depth of the aquifer.
For that little bit of doubt hidden away in the back of your mind, let’s look at the Ogallala Aquifer. This massive aquifer underlies parts of Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska, New Mexico, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Texas, and Wyoming, with a total surface area of 174,000 square miles. Unfortunately, the Ogallala Aquifer has seems its water level drop off a cliff. With the maximum water decline recorded being 256ft, imagine the time it will take for all of that water to return. You may be wondering how this could be happening. In the words of Michon Scott of the National Oceanic And Atmospheric Association(NOAA), “producers are extracting water faster than it is being replenished, which means that parts of the Ogallala Aquifer should be considered a nonrenewable resource.” In simpler terms, if we continue to use water at a faster rate than it is naturally replaced, we will run out water as the aquifers dry up.
Now here comes the million dollar question: Can this happen to you? (Drumroll please) The answer is yes. I highly recommend you take a bit of time to research your area because the belief that Africa is the only continent facing water stress couldn’t be more untrue. For now, take a look at the map provided by The Council on Foreign Relation which details global water stress in 2022.
Water’s value our lives reaches far beyond simply quenching our thirst. Water is used for washing clothes, cooking food, growing crops, and so much more. Take a moment and think about how often you use water in your daily routine, from your morning shower to brushing your teeth before bed. Water is valuable and should be treated as such. Should we continue down this path of carelessly watching our water flow down the drain, the day our faucets run dry could be closer than we hoped.
This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.
© 2022 Wolfe Rygaard