When you turn on the tap to get a drink, do you wonder where your water comes from? If you live in a city, the answer is probably the city’s water grid. But if your home is on well water, your refreshing drink comes straight from the depths of the earth. There are many uses of groundwater that we often take for granted.
Groundwater is one of our most valuable resources, so we should pay attention to how we use it. Today, we’re facing a trend of groundwater depletion that could put human life at risk. So what is groundwater depletion and what can we do to prevent it?
The Problem: Groundwater Depletion
Water is a limited resource. While more than 70 percent of our planet is covered in it, only three percent of that water is drinkable — and two percent of that is frozen in our polar ice caps. Much of the water we drink is pumped up from beneath the ground. One of the primary uses of groundwater is providing drinking water: for 37 percent of urban households and 90 percent of the water consumed by rural households.
Groundwater is becoming scarce in certain areas around the world. The underground aquifers that store this drinkable water are beginning to run dry. The water cycle naturally replenishes the aquifers — rainwater trickles down through the substrate and is purified along the way — but we’re pumping the water out faster than it can refill.
This kind of groundwater depletion plays a significant role in the fact that one out of every nine people in the world doesn’t have access to clean drinking water. Water shortages are becoming more common — Cape Town, South Africa, almost ran out of water entirely in 2016. Over pumping lowers the water table and increases the cost of water, and can even affect the level of local lakes and rivers.
Pumping isn’t the only threat to these natural water sources. The growth of “fracking” — the colloquial name for hydraulic fracturing — also threatens water supplies. Fracking works by forcing water or another fluid through a narrow opening to fracture the rocks that contain natural gas. Miners can harvest the gas, but the water or liquid that they used for the fracturing is contaminated and can leak into natural groundwater sources. This limits the uses of groundwater because, once it has been contaminated, it is no longer considered potable.
What can we do to prevent groundwater depletion and contamination?
Focus on Native Landscaping
It’s tempting to find the most beautiful and exotic plants you can to decorate the exterior of your home, but this isn’t the best idea. Non-native plants often come from rain forests and other areas where precipitation is plentiful. If your home doesn’t get as much rain as the Amazon, you’ll end up wasting a lot of water to keep them alive.
Focus on native plants instead of exotic ones. They’ll look just as beautiful, and you won’t have to waste all your time — and all of your water — trying to keep them alive in an environment that is so unlike their own.
Fix Your Leaks
Leaky faucets are annoying, but they’re also one of the biggest water-wasters in the world. One valve, dripping once per second, leaks roughly one-quarter of a milliliter with every drop. It might not sound like much, but it adds up quickly. That single quarter-milliliter becomes 86,400 drips per day, for a total of five full gallons of water. That’s 2,028 gallons of water down the drain every year.
All this from a single leaky faucet. If you’ve got a leaking tap, fix it quickly. You’ll save yourself a lot of wasted water as well as a lot of money if you pay the city for your water supply.
What Will Scientists Discover Next?
Science news delivered weekly!
Follow Watering Restrictions
We all love having a green lawn or a lush garden, but watering during the middle of the day means you’ll need more water to keep your plants alive. Once the sun reaches its peak, much of the water you’re using evaporates instead of soaking into the ground to reach the roots of the plants that need it. That is why many cities regulate watering. You’re only allowed to irrigate your plants late in the evening or early in the morning, when evaporation is no longer a problem.
Watering restrictions become even stricter during the dry months. Pay attention to these restrictions so you’re not wasting water unnecessarily. At the same time, pay attention to the weather — you don’t need to water your plants if it rained during the day!
Many of the chemicals we use every day are hazardous to local water tables. Fertilizers, pesticides and even cleaning materials can end up in a raindrop that makes its way down into the aquifer. This contamination then infiltrates your drinking water.
Pay close attention to the chemicals in and around your home. Choose natural alternatives whenever possible. Don’t dump any chemicals outside your house. Even if stormwater runoff isn’t a problem, these chemicals can be dangerous to local plants and animals.
The average American household uses 300 gallons of water each day. In 2015, the United States alone used 322,000 million gallons of water per day. Every home and business can take steps to conserve water, from shutting off the water while brushing your teeth to taking shorter showers and upgrading your fixtures to low-flow alternatives.
If every household reduced their water use by just 50 gallons a day — which you can do by replacing your old toilet with a low-flow model — we could save millions of gallons of water and prevent groundwater depletion. Every little bit helps, but it will take a lot of homes making small changes for it to add up into an effective transition.
Protecting Groundwater Is a Shared Mission
Groundwater is one of our most valuable resources and it’s becoming scarcer every year. Every household and business needs to do everything they can to reduce each of their uses of groundwater, from fixing leaky taps to reducing use or watering intelligently. We have a limited amount of drinkable water on our home planet, and once it runs out, human life will quickly follow it into the abyss.