Our planet is currently experiencing an environmental dilemma of much concern - the depletion of one of our most valuable natural resources, our groundwater.
There are many different solutions to prevent the depletion of our groundwater such as implementing responsible water usage tactics in your home, installing water-saving equipment, adopting a plant-based diet, responsible agriculture, pollution prevention, climate change action, and much more.
While it is easy to assume that the majority of our water comes from surface water such as lakes, rivers, and ponds, the truth is that a lot of it actually comes from below the surface as groundwater.
Groundwater is fresh water that is stored in sediment, soil, and large aquifers. Although we cannot physically see this water, it amounts to roughly 30% of the total freshwater that we have available to us.
However, much like the rest of our planet’s freshwater resources, our groundwater is currently at greater risk than it ever has been in the past.
This is quite alarming given that so much of the United States and the world are dependant on our groundwater resources for our survival, which is why we need to begin taking direct action to solve this environmental issue. Keep reading to learn more about groundwater depletion solutions.
After years of working for the Environmental Protection Agency and as a hydrogeologist, I have had an extensive amount of experience studying our planet’s groundwater.
My experience has taught me that preventing the depletion of our groundwater needs to be solved with the combined efforts of a wide variety of different approaches that range from individualistic life choices and large-scale government initiatives.
Solutions: Groundwater Depletion
Solving groundwater depletion is not going to be easy. This is a complex environmental issue and it is going to take national and global action in order for our goals to be met. The reason for this is that there are so many different factors that contribute to groundwater depletion. A good way to look at this issue is that anything that wastes water is directly or indirectly contributing to the problem, which means that we are going to have to approach this from all angles.
One of the biggest reasons that our planet’s groundwater is under such great threat is due to a lack of awareness of just how precious water actually is by so many people. Within the last century or so, much of the western world has grown spoiled with the idea that water is a resource that we have an infinite supply of - it flows endlessly out of our taps, we use it to water our lawns, and we fill out swimming pools. While it is true that we have made water very accessible, that by no means implies that it will never run out it.
A lot of this has to do with the perception that our planet is made of water, so we must have enough to last us forever, right? Although our planet is made primarily of water, the amount of it that we legitimately have available to us is very small. The truth is that only about 3% of our planet’s water is fresh water and most of this is locked away in the polar ice caps. In actuality, we only have 1% of the Earth’s total water available to us, which means that we need to treat it with care and consideration.
The good news is that there is a lot that we can all do to protect and preserve our groundwater resources. In recent years, there has been a huge rise in environmental values being adopted in our society, which is encouraging people to become more aware of the importance of protecting our groundwater, so that proper measures and action can be taken. To help understand this further, we are going to take you through some effective solutions to groundwater depletion.
Fix Leaks & Drips
One of the most critical approaches to preventing groundwater depletions starts right at home with your basic household drips and leaks.
These are things that we so casually brush under the rug and procrastinate fixing, as it is easy to assume that a small drip from your faucet does not amount to much water wastage. You would be surprised to find that even a small drip like this can amount to 3,000 gallons of water being wasted per year!
This is a huge sum of water that could have so easily been saved. If you calculate this properly and compare it to another type of water usage, it equates to roughly 5 months of showers for a single person.
All in all, the average household contributes to about 10,000 gallons of wasted water from leaks and drips every single year. Government organizations like the Environmental Protection Agency have initiated awareness campaigns like the ‘Fix A Leak Week’ but in all honesty, fixing a leak or a drip in your house is not something that should ever be put off.
If the average household can waste as much as 10,000 gallons per year for something so simple, we need to take a look at this number on a national scale and consider that we are actually wasting billions of gallons of water per year in the United States alone. To prevent our groundwater from being depleted, be sure to fix a drip or a leak in your home as soon as you see it.
Turn It Off (When Not In Use)
A major contributor to the depletion of our groundwater comes from simply leaving water on when it is not in use.
This is such common practice in our society that we tend to not even realize when we are doing it. Consider the times when you are washing your fruits and vegetables. In all likelihood, you probably leave your sink on for longer than the duration of when you are washing your produce.
Or, think about when you brush your teeth. So many people leave their sink on for the entire time while they are physically brushing their teeth and not even using the water that is coming out of their tap. Brushing your teeth wastes about 4 gallons of water for just a single person. If you consider that most people brush their teeth twice per day and that the average household is 4 people, that means that roughly 32 gallons of water are being used per day for brushing teeth.
Ultimately, you can get the same job done with about a quart of water per person, which greatly eliminates water wastage. So, the next time that you are brushing your teeth, shaving, or washing produce items, try to do it with consideration of just how much water is being misused to avoid the unnecessary depletion of our groundwater.
We all love taking those nice long showers but they are undeniably taking a toll on our groundwater resources. You have to consider that you are using roughly 2.5 gallons of water per minute while you shower, which adds up to be as much as 25 gallons if you take a shower that is at least 10 minutes long.
Keeping up with basic hygiene is a must but by no means does it require 25 gallons of water per shower in order to get the job done. Taking shorter showers can save millions of gallons of our groundwater per year.
A good way to approach this is to try to limit yourself to showers that are roughly 3 to 4 minutes long. This is more than enough time to get clean and it can save a lot of groundwater. It can sometimes be hard to know exactly how long you are showering for, which is why getting a basic shower timer is a great way to keep yourself to this regiment.
Alternatively, an even better way to save water during your showers is to try out a bucket shower. A bucket shower involves having a bucket that you fill up in your shower and then pour over yourself with a ladle. This helps you keep track of exactly how much water you are using for each shower and it lets you take your time while you get clean without feeling the pressure of timing.
Practice Water Recycling
The great thing about water is that even if it has been used it does not mean that it is useless.
Water that has been used around the house that has not been contaminated with toxins or chemicals can be repurposed and can replace the use of water that you would have ultimately relied on from your tap, which can greatly lower our reliance on groundwater resources.
This is a process known as water recycling. Many Americans are taking it upon themselves to mitigate the depletion of groundwater by implementing a variety of different water recycling techniques, which amount to millions of gallons of water being saved every year. Here are some examples:
- Produce Washing - keep a bowl or bucket below your tap while you wash your fruits and vegetables to collect for further use.
- Pasta Water - the water that you use for boiling your pasta is great for being repurposed for other household duties such as watering plants.
- Car Washing On Lawn - You can skip watering your lawn for a week by washing your car on it. When washing your car, park it out of the driveway and instead on your lawn, as all of the water that you use to wash it will suffice for adequate watering.
- Rain Barrel - rainwater is a great contributor to our groundwater resources but unfortunately so much of it ends up flowing into storm drains without ever reaching the ground. A rain barrel attached to your gutter can help you catch some of this water so that you can use it for things like watering plants.
- Gravel Driveway - most driveways in the United States are made out of concrete, which results in any water that makes contact with it ending up in storm drains. By having a gravel driveway installed at your residence, you can encourage this rainwater to fall back into the Earth where it will benefit our groundwater resources.
- Water Recycling System - One of the most advanced ways of saving water at home is to install a water recycling system. This system allows you to store your non-toxic greywater for further use. Highly advanced systems even filter the water to make it safe for drinking.
Water recycling is a great strategy to implement around the house. The combined effort of just a few of the above-mentioned techniques can amount to millions of water that can be spared of wastage, which lowers our dependency on groundwater.
Do Not Overwater
You would be shocked by how much of our groundwater gets wasted simply from overwatering. Too much of anything is not good and that especially goes for precious resources like our groundwater.
It is estimated that roughly 50% of all of the water that we use is wasted on overwatering. This is such a common occurrence that happens in just about all areas of our water usage.
The best way to combat this is to simply be more mindful and considerate of how much water you are using when water is running. Here are some areas of focus:
- Watering Plants - many people tend to give their plants an excessive amount of water, which is not only wasteful but also not healthy for the plants.
- Watering Lawns - it is easy to leave your sprinklers on for far longer than they need to be. It is estimated that just a single square foot of your lawn wastes as much as 135 gallons of water per year - of which 50% of it will evaporate. Giving your lawn just enough water can save a tremendous amount of our groundwater resources. In addition, try adjusting your sprinkler timers seasonally, as cooler months require less watering.
- Faucet Pressure - Instead of cranking your sink up to the maximum amount of pressure for washing your hands, brushing your teeth, or washing produce, try keeping it at 25 to 50% of its pressure strength to save a considerable amount of groundwater.
If you love gardening and do not want to contribute to overwatering, investing in gardening equipment that is designed to save water is a great way to approach preventing groundwater depletion. You can buy pots that are the ideal size for your plant, have drainage holes, and also invest in watering spikes.
Avoid Using Chemicals
A major cause of water contamination and soil degradation comes from our use of chemicals.
This was never an issue in the past when we were reliant on natural and environmentally friendly gardening techniques. However, the popularization of chemical-based fertilizers in recent decades has led to a lot of groundwater becoming useless due to contamination.
While these chemical fertilizers do claim to deliver great results to home gardens, they do so at a price. Chemical fertilizers are the cause of a lot of soil nutrient depletion. Our planet’s soil is full of vital nutrients and moisture, which amounts to a substantial amount of groundwater.
When we use these unnatural methods for gardening, we eventually exhaust the soil of all of its nutrients and destroy it completely. This is something that can be avoided by approaching your garden with more natural methods such as organic gardening.
Using organic methods of gardening encourages sustainable soil health and prevents nutrients and moisture from degrading.
The thing about groundwater depletion is that it is occurring all around us, even when we do not realize it. Groundwater is tied to the production of so many goods and services that it is practically impossible to buy something as the average consumer that was not in some way involved in the use of groundwater.
Now, the prospect of not buying anything is simply not realistic, as we do live in a capitalistic and consumeristic society. However, we can make changes in how we buy, what we buy, and how we treat our products after they have served their purpose.
Many of us have been brought up with the common practice of recycling, which is a great alternative to simply letting waste lie in a landfill for centuries. There are a lot of raw materials required to manufacture and create our goods and products - and without recycling, they are essentially being wasted after their initial use.
Recycling helps promote the reuse of these materials so that we can lower our demand on creating new goods where they are not needed. However, in recent years the idea of recycling has been expanded to help promote even more benefits to preserving groundwater resources. This concept is defined by the utilization of the ‘5 Rs’ in our lifestyle choices. Let’s take a closer look at them in more detail.
- Refuse - if you know that a product is going to harm groundwater resources and it is not absolutely essential, the best way to promote the preservation of our groundwater is to refuse the product altogether.
- Reduce - although there are many products and services that we can refuse to save groundwater, the truth is that some are unavoidable. However, what we can always try to do is reduce the amount of the product or service that we use. A good way to look at it is that 50% less reliance on it will result in 50% less groundwater being wasted.
- Reuse - so many of the things we buy end up being thrown away or even recycled when in actuality they can be reused over and over again. A common example of this is water bottles. Products such as these do not need to end up getting reprocessed or thrown away as they can be reused, which helps avoid unnecessary groundwater usage.
- Repurpose - if you cannot reuse the product that you bought, perhaps you can find a way to repurpose it. There are so many different things that we buy that can be reutilized to serve a different purpose, which helps prevent the consumption of unnecessary products later on.
- Recycle - lastly, you should recycle your used products. Although recycling is not the best approach within the 5 Rs, it is still highly effective at preventing groundwater depletion. Just be sure to recycle your products properly so that they do not end up in a landfill. The best way to do this is to confirm the recycling number on the package in accordance with your local waste management system’s processing requirements.
Being a wise and responsible consumer can be a highly beneficial solution to groundwater depletion. By implementing the 5 Rs in your daily life, you can greatly limit the amount of waste that you produce and you can benefit the environment in more ways than one.
Many people are often shocked to find out that the food that they eat directly contributes to groundwater depletion.
All of the food that ends up on your plate went through a process of being cultivated, processed, packaged, and distributed and there is not a single food item that you eat that did not require some form of water in order for it to be produced.
With that being said, there are some food items that we choose that are considerably more damaging to our groundwater resources. We will always need to have food be available but what we can change is the food that we eat and how we produce it, as this can greatly benefit our fight against groundwater depletion.
The biggest culprit within our food when it comes to wasting water is our massive intake of meat and animal products. Any food item that requires animal products in any way shape or form, will have used considerably more groundwater than products that are plant-based.
To produce just a single pound of beef requires around 2,000 gallons of water! This is a staggering amount of water for an amount of food that will likely only equate to two meals. When you add it all up, one single meal of meat is equivalent to 3 to 5 months worth of showers.
The reason that meat is such a wasteful consumer of groundwater is that water is necessary for the entire process of the cow’s life. The average cow consumes as much as 50 gallons of water in just a single day, which is nearly 100 times more than the average person drinks in a single day.
However, the animals that go through the meat industry need water constantly for so many additional reasons. In order to comply with modern safety standards, animals need to be washed regularly to prevent diseases such as E. coli. Furthermore, water is required to grow the food that these animals eat. Ultimately, the meat industry is responsible for billions of gallons of groundwater depletion, which amounts to a very small amount of food for the amount of water that is actually used.
Plant-based foods are a phenomenal solution to the depletion of our groundwater resources. Plants are safer to eat, require less processing, and considerably less water in order to be produced. Most of the plant-based food items that we eat such as wheat only require about 25 gallons of water for the same weight of food as meat products.
That means that adopting a plant-based diet can result in saving 1,000 times the amount of groundwater that would be wasted from eating meat. Unfortunately, cutting meat out of a diet is not going to be a realistic approach for every consumer out there. People love eating meat and it is going to be extremely difficult to convince them to abandon it altogether.
A great adaptation to this would be to considerably lower your intake of meat and animal-based products. This is such a huge contributor to groundwater depletion that even by lowering your consumption of meat to just once or twice per week, a single consumer can help save hundreds of thousands of gallons of water per year.
With that being said, the best way to prevent groundwater depletion in this situation is to have a diet that is either entirely or at least primarily plant-based.
Climate Change Action
It goes without saying that the largest threat that all of humanity faces around the globe is climate change. This environmental dilemma has been a huge topic of discussion in recent years and rightfully so, as denying it is no longer an option.
The evidence is apparent and the damaging effects of this phenomenon are being felt more with each passing year, which is pushing us to begin taking direct action on the matter before it is too late.
Aside from the various horrific ramifications that climate change presents, one of the most critical areas of concern is how it will affect the depletion of our water resources. The effects of climate change will be slower on our groundwater resources than bodies of water on the surface such as rivers, lakes, and reservoirs.
However, it is important to note that if we have less surface water available to us then we will become much more dependant on the reserves of our groundwater resources. Climate change is currently leading a lot of regions around the world to experience extreme droughts, which are depleting essential water resources in so many regions.
The issue of climate change poses a lot of challenges and we are reaching a point of no return to take action on the matter. This is a particularly tough topic given that it cannot be solved by a single government or organization. Climate change is a threat that impacts the entire planet, which is why it is going to take the combined efforts of everyone on Earth for us to effectively combat its negative impacts.
Luckily, there are various summits and international cooperations such as the Paris Agreement that have been created to specifically target the global response to climate change. Nations around the world have come together and have been instructed by leading scientists to reach a goal of net-zero emissions by the year 2050. This is an ambitious goal but it can be achieved if we put our heads together to reach it.
The issue with this is that climate change tends to get brought up in serious discussion at these summits and meetings but governments often lack the necessary response and momentum to reach their annual goals. We can no longer waste time or provide empty promises on climate change, as the deadline for reaching net-zero emissions gets closer each year.
Our planet’s water resources are being exhausted in so many regions around the globe and we will pay the price for it if they are depleted. It is essential that we take swift and effective action in response to climate change to preserve our global water supply.
Phase Out Fossil Fuels
One of the biggest contributors to climate change is fossil fuels, which are not only enabling the effects of this environmental crisis but are also directly impacting our planet’s groundwater supply.
The bottom line is that fossil fuels are a dirty energy resource. Since the industrial revolution, our society has become highly dependant on fossil fuels and we are often blinded by its damaging effects.
Indeed, fossil fuels have greatly aided the evolution of modern society. They have provided incredible opportunities for innovation and technology, but we need to recognize that they are becoming outdated sources of energy that are greatly damaging our planet and depleting our groundwater resources.
One of the worst contributors to groundwater depletion comes from fossil fuels like coal. This is considered to be the dirtiest and most damaging fossil fuel, which is why it needs to be phased out immediately.
The waste that is often used to treat coal is disposed of in underground mines or even directly into surface water. This waste can flow into groundwater deposits which can result in entire aquifers becoming contaminated. If an aquifer becomes contaminated beyond treatment or practical use, it is essentially depleted.
With that being said, coal is not the only culprit in this matter, as other fossil fuels such as oil and natural gas are just as much to blame. Oil leaks are all too common of an occurrence - whether it be at processing plants, drilling facilities, or pipelines. This fossil fuel is responsible for some of the worst man-made environmental disasters on the planet.
Oil leaks have commonly flown straight into surface waters, which results in entire lakes and bodies of water becoming completely polluted. On the other hand, oil leaks often occur over soil, which directly impacts groundwater resources. Soil that has been affected by oil leaks is contaminated beyond repair and any groundwater that it held becomes useless.
Fossil fuels may have had their place in human history but they are greatly outdated and are responsible for so much groundwater depletion. It is time to phase out these dirty energy resources and replace them with sustainable forms of green energy. Global societies need to invest in green energy such as solar, wind and wave to combat many environmental issues including the depletion of our groundwater resources.
Agricultural Efficiency & Responsibility
The industrial agricultural complex is responsible for producing a lot of our food but they are also huge wasters of our groundwater.
The process of how we grow our food has greatly changed in the last century or so. The traditional and sustainable small farms that grew our food in the past have been replaced by massive industrial ones, which follow a lot of poor farming techniques that result in groundwater depletion.
Big Agro prioritizes profits over environmental sustainability and it is our planet and our groundwater that will pay the price for it. We have abandoned traditional means of farming and have begun adopting techniques that require unnatural methods of food production. While many of these methods appeared to be groundbreaking at first and gave promise of optimized farming in our society, the truth is that the tactics are incredibly destructive to our soil and groundwater resources.
The widespread use of pesticides has a very negative impact on the long-term health of our soil, it directly contributes to land degradation, as well as the depletion of our groundwater. Pesticides contaminate soil and rob it of its nutrients, which can eventually lead to unusable soil.
In addition, many industrial farms utilize unsustainable farming practices such as single-crop farming. This can be extremely destructive to soil health as it exhausts soil nutrients and groundwater.
Single-crop farming puts an excessive amount of reliance on specific soil nutrients that need to be used up in a balanced way. The solution to this is to utilize traditional farming strategies such as crop rotation, which involves a cycled rotation of crops to be transitioned in and out each season. This ensures that soil nutrients are not overused and that they will stay healthy - with moisture and groundwater being a primary aspect of this.
Corporate & Industrial Responsibility
Around the world, corporations and industries are responsible for massive amounts of groundwater depletion.
These large organizations and businesses tend to have a habit of putting their profits before everything else, which often results in our environment and groundwater resources becoming polluted and depleted.
A major issue with corporations and industries is that they are able to get away with their actions without much consequence. Some of the worst environmental disasters were directly caused by them and they generally just get a slap on the wrist. Money is something that these organizations have all too much of so penalizing them with it does not send a clear enough message.
The reality is that we need to create a government-backed legislature that will legitimately hold these corporate and industrial giants responsible for their actions. A lack of accountability is the reason that these organizations get away with their wrongdoings.
We see their actions take negative tolls on ground and surface water all over the planet. So many corporations and industries dump their waste directly into rivers, lakes, and streams, which sabotages vital drinking water for millions of people. There is virtually no industry on the planet that does not contribute to groundwater depletion as a result of this.
Due to the fact that many of these organizations are able to take their business wherever they please, they often opt for conducting it in regions around the world that have a lack government regulation. This enables them to take advantage of poorer nations where they can pollute and destroy groundwater resources without facing consequences.
With that being said, there needs to be global cooperation to address this issue. Governments need to work together to keep corporations and industries in check so that they are not able to act with impunity time and time again. Some form of international legislature needs to go into effect so that corporations are forced to conduct their business practices in ways that are sustainable and do not deplete our planet’s groundwater resources.
By far, one of the biggest contributors to groundwater depletion simply comes from a lack of education on the matter.
So many people around the globe are not aware of the importance of our groundwater that they often use it and abuse it, which prevents people from making the necessary lifestyle changes that they need to commit to preserve this vital resource.
Education is the wisest investment that we can make in securing our groundwater for generations to come. This needs to be approached not only on a national level but on a global one, as this is a matter that will affect the entire planet. Preserving groundwater resources, water conservation, and environmentalism need to become standardized topics of learning in schooling systems.
If you are able to reach people when they are at their youngest, you can ingrain the idea of groundwater preservation as one of their internal values, so that they can make wise choices in all of their decisions moving forward.
In addition, to public education in the schooling system, we need to keep groundwater education as a topic within business practices. Industries, corporations, and even small businesses all have a role to play in the preservation of our groundwater resources. Understanding the importance of this environmental matter and stressing it as one of the essential values of a business model is a fantastic way of displaying responsibility in how we treat this essential resource.
We should be encouraging the public at large about how damaging the depletion of our groundwater resources is so that they can understand the reality of its long-term effects. Next, we need to provide them with the necessary tools, resources, and insights to make decisions in their lives that are going to be beneficial to groundwater preservation.
About THE AUTHOR
James Parker has a Masters degree in Sustainability with a focus on land management, permaculture and regenerative agriculture. He also has experience managing sustainability projects, and is passionate about conservation and sustainability.Read More About James Parker