Humans are using freshwater faster than it can be replenished. According to a comprehensive study, water stored in deep underground aquifers is being tapped at an unsustainable rate. Our over-consumption of water for things like cropland irrigation has dire ecological implications. Humans are not the only ones who require water, this vital resource is essential for ecosystems like forests and fisheries.
According to recent research published in Nature, almost one quarter of the world’s population lives in regions where groundwater is being used up faster than it can be replenished. This research studied the rate at which water is being extracted from 800 aquifers worldwide and the rate at which it is being recharged. The results of this study indicate that many agricultural centers are using water faster than it can be replenished.
“This overuse can lead to decreased groundwater availability for both drinking water and growing food,” says Tom Gleeson, a hydrogeologist at McGill University in Montreal, Quebec, and lead author of the study. Eventually, he adds, it “can lead to dried up streams and ecological impacts”.
The authors found that 20 percent of the world’s aquifers are being overexploited, some massively so. For example, the groundwater footprint for the Upper Ganges aquifer is more than 50 times the size of its aquifer, “so the rate of extraction is quite unsustainable there”, says Gleeson.
Despite these findings more research is required. We still need to determine exactly how much freshwater we actually have and this will require more in depth study of aquifers worldwide.
Despite the troubling findings of this study, according to Gleeson there is still hope. “It’s this huge reservoir that we have the potential to manage sustainably,” he says. “If we choose to.”
© 2013, Richard Matthews. All rights reserved.
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