Major Threats to Groundwater Depletion

Water pollution caused by industrial waste

Drought, increased population size, and higher incidences of groundwater pollution have led to massive amounts of groundwater depletion throughout the United States. This issue has caused quite a stir recently as states — especially those in the Southwest — are suffering water shortages.

What is groundwater depletion? Groundwater is found below the surface of the Earth in pockets and is extracted using various methods for commercial, industrial, and residential use.

About 40% of the nation’s population relies on groundwater as drinking water, while an estimated 95% of the nation’s available fresh water sources come from groundwater. Nearly 400 billion gallons of water are used in the U.S. every day, and because of rapid groundwater depletion, many states have imposed strict water-preservation laws and have even gone so far as to encourage residents to use landscaping plants that require less water.

Groundwater Monitoring: Scientists of various fields have been monitoring the progression of groundwater depletion in the most vulnerable parts of the country. For example, Lake Mead (a reservoir that supplies 40 million people with fresh water) has hit it’s lowest water level in history.

Think of groundwater as a checking account: if you withdraw more cash than you deposit, over time you will end up running out of money. This is the same issue with groundwater.

Water Treatment: Better groundwater management could be found in the form of better water treatments that can return recycled freshwater back into groundwater reserves. Right now, one of the most serious threats to groundwater is pollution. Over 80% of the most serious hazardous waste sites in the nation have negatively impacted the quality of nearby groundwater, and although remediation techniques have improved, the water is mostly unusable after it has been contaminated.

Other negative effects of groundwater depletion include the following:

  • Lowering the water table. This is caused by excessive water pumping which can cause wells to no longer be able to reach groundwater, causing us to drill deeper into the Earth.
  • Increased costs to due a low water table. Due to drilling deeper and deeper into the ground, more time, energy, and money is needed to reach the groundwater. It must be pumped farther, which also means more energy is used.
  • Decrease in surface water. Where there is surface water, there is also groundwater. When the groundwater is used up, the surface water that is connected to the groundwater is also negatively affected.
  • Land subsidence issues. This problem occurs due to human activity. There is a loss of support from the ground below due to groundwater depletion which causes the soil to collapse, compact, or drop. Many sinkholes arise due to land subsidence.
  • Salt water concerns. Many southern coastal states rely on getting their fresh water from pumping groundwater to the surface. However, this could lead to saltwater moving inland and upward towards the surface, eventually affecting crops and other surface freshwater sources.

Better groundwater monitoring is needed in the near future in order to impede the rapid depletion of our nation’s freshwater sources. Do your part and reduce the amount of fresh water used on a daily basis. More on this topic: