Water is a defining feature of the earth and absolutely essential for sustaining life. In total, 70 percent of the earth’s surface is covered with water. However, 97.5 percent of that is salt water, which makes it undrinkable for humans and unusable for irrigation. Fresh water accounts for the other 2.5 percent, but about two thirds of that is locked up in glaciers and thick ice sheets on the north and south poles.
Only 1 percent of that 1 percent is easily accessible. That leaves about .01 percent of all the water on earth available to sustain life.
The world’s aquifers provide the majority of potable water and they are being used faster than they can be replenished. With 70 to 80 percent of global groundwater being used for agricultural irrigation, it accounts for most of the increase in demand.
Over a third of the world’s population suffers from water scarcity and this directly contributes to the loss of agricultural lands. Some of the most serious potential zones of groundwater depletion include Africa, northeastern China, northwestern India, Iran, northeastern Pakistan, southeastern Spain, California’s Central Valley and central United States.
The Ogallala Aquifer of the central United States is being rapidly depleted. This is a huge aquifer which underlies portions of eight states, but it is being recharged, in the more arid parts of the aquifer, at a rate of only about 10 percent of annual withdrawals.
Groundwater depletion is a serious issue and it is growing more serious every year. The problem of diminishing water supply is being compounded by the fact that aquifers can be easily contaminated by a variety of sources including ground storage tanks, septic systems, hazardous waste sites, landfills, road salts, fertilizers, pesticides, and various chemicals.
We need to see better water conservation and protection if we are to address the problem of diminishing ground water. Some viable techniques include using more sophisticated irrigation techniques, developing crops that can survive with less water, and redirecting water on the landscape so that a higher proportion soaks back in to replenish the groundwater. Another technique involves aquifer storage and recovery which involves re-injecting water back into an aquifer for later recovery and use.
A study commissioned by the Britain’s Department for International Development and released by Britain-based NGO Forum for the Future, shows that regional cooperation in sharing scarce water resources must be promoted over hoarding.
© 2011, Richard Matthews. All rights reserved.
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