Shocking findings reported by NASA show that the problem of diminishing groundwater is poised to lead to the collapse of the food supply, where there could be devastating consequences.
The impact has already been felt, primarily in California. Data obtained form the Gravity Recovery And Climate Experiment (GRACE) reveal that there, Californians in the Sacramento and San Joaquin river basins have lost approximately 15 cubic kilometers (4 cubic miles) of total water every year since 2011, which is more water than all 38 million Californians combined use on an annual basis for both municipal and domestic purposes. More than half of that use is linked to Central Valley groundwater pumping.(1)
Such excessive use is a classic case of overusing a resource that can’t keep up with demand. “The myth of limitless water and the free-for-all mentality that has pervaded groundwater use must now come to an end,” says Jet Propulsion Laboratory hydrologist James Famiglietti.(1) That, along with many other words of warning, is made clear by Famiglietti in article he authored which appeared in the October 2014 journal Nature Climate Change.
“Precipitation, snowmelt, and streamflow are no longer enough to supply the multiple, competing demands for society’s water needs,” he explains. Sadly, it would appear that, since non-renewable groundwater is often turned to in an effort to meet the supply and demand, especially during periods of drought, “groundwater supplies in some major aquifers will be depleted in a matter of decades.”(1)
It’s not limited to California either. While it’s there that the situation is deemed particularly devastating, the impact is far-reaching; it’s quickly becoming a global groundwater crisis. In fact, other parts of the world such as Australia’s Canning Basin, the High Plains aquifers of the United States, the North China Plain, the Northwest Sahara Aquifer System, aquifers beneath northwestern India and the Middle East and the Guarani Aquifer in South America are facing water depletion at breakneck speeds, primarily from water that’s required for farming.(1)
The global groundwater crisis: a diminishing food supply and civil uprisings
So, what does all of this mean? Quite simply, as the water supply runs out, so too will the food supply. However, with the word underground comes a severe flaw in human nature: out of sight, out of mind. Because groundwater obviously resides underneath the Earth’s surface, it’s difficult for many to grasp the severity of the situation and become proactive about that which they can not see.
Consider the fact that irrigation, the main contributor to groundwater depletion, is responsible for 70 percent of water usage globally. Then, factor in that 40 percent of the world’s food supply is derived from nearly 20 percent of irrigated farmland, and “food security” seems to be an oxymoron.(2)
Along with a thinning food supply also comes levels of strife, so it can be expected that already-mounting tensions throughout the world could spike. Famiglietti notes that the disappearing groundwater “may well trigger more civil uprising and international violent conflict in the already water-stressed regions of the world, and new conflict in others.”(3)
Working toward a solution to preserve water, maintain food security
According to Famiglietti, there should be an immediate focus on agriculture. More efficient agricultural practices, even on a small scale, is something THAT he says can lead to volumes of groundwater being saved.(1)
Engaging in more sustainable ways of living — not just concerning agriculture, but right in one’s own backyard — can play a role in making right what has the potential to go drastically wrong. Practicing limited irrigation, collecting rainwater and even simply making a shift in the “want” versus “need” mindset are just some ways that can help restore balance to this very serious issue.