Groundwater

GROUNDWATER

"There are many reasons why groundwater is essential to health and the well-being of humanity and the environment. When people talk about climate change and impacts to water resources, they tend to focus on things like drought, flooding, drying up surface water bodies and melting glaciers. However, the potential for groundwater to be threatened or be a conduit for climate change impacts is also a concern.

An obvious concern is depletion of groundwater as it becomes an increasingly important water source. As precipitation becomes less reliable due to climate change, surface water bodies can drop too low to provide needed water, causing people to turn to groundwater sources. Over-pumping and depletion of groundwater is already a significant problem in many places across the Eastern Region. Over-pumping will increase as climate change makes traditional sources of water less reliable. Less obvious are ways in which groundwater may be a conduit of climate change impacts. For example, recent research based on modeling found the eastern United States is particularly vulnerable to increasing evapotranspiration, which decreases shallow water tables.

Evapotranspiration is a combination of evaporation and transpiration, which refers to the water that plants release to the air. While a permanent water table decrease of one to three feet may not mean anything for a water supply well, it can have severe consequences for surface water bodies and ecosystems dependent on that shallow water table.

Other research has shown that groundwater could lead to warmer surface water bodies, such as streams. Many cold-water streams in the region depend on groundwater to maintain their cold-water conditions, which are required by many organisms. This water originates as precipitation that infiltrates into the ground as recharge and eventually becomes groundwater discharge (baseflow) to water bodies. The research has found that warmer precipitation and recharge will eventually reach streams and rivers as warmer baseflow. This may take a few decades, which can make planning for these streams even more challenging."

Five takeaways from a recent New York Times investigation - 

  • Aquifer water levels are falling nationwide. The danger is worse and more widespread than many people realize.
  • We know this because we built a database of more than 80,000 wells nationwide.
  • Overpumping is a threat to America’s status as a food superpower.
  • It’s not just a problem in the West or for farmers. It’s a tap water crisis, too.
  • Weak regulations allowed the overuse. Now, climate change is leading to even more pumping.

CREDIT: USGS

All the text and the graphic is from the USDA Forest Service.

CURRENT NEWS

A HIDDEN THREAT

By Brady Dennis and Others 05/22/24
On the worst days, when the backyard would flood and the toilet would gurgle and the smell of sewage hung thick in the air, Monica Arenas would flee to her mother-in-law’s home to use the…
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Sinking US cities increase risk of flooding from rising sea levels

By Jeremy Plester 03/28/24
A number of cities on the US east coast are sinking, increasing the risk of flooding from rising sea levels. Between 2007 and 2020 the ground under New York, Baltimore and Norfolk in Virginia sank…
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This mega-city is running out of water. What will 22 million people do when the taps run dry?

By Patrick J. MCDonnell 03/21/24
When Reina Cervantes Trejo heard the truck, gears grinding as it climbed the street to her house, she rushed outside. “Thanks to our good Lord!” she said. “The water has finally arrived!” Cervantes and her…
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New Data Details the Risk of Sea-Level Rise for U.S. Coastal Cities

By Mira Rojanasakul 03/06/24
A new study of sea-level rise using detailed data on changes to land elevation found that current scientific models may not accurately capture vulnerabilities in 32 coastal cities in the United States.
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Cities Aren’t Prepared for a Crucial Part of Sea-Level Rise: They’re Also Sinking

By Matt Simon 03/06/24
Fighting off rising seas without reducing humanity’s carbon emissions is like trying to drain a bathtub without turning off the tap. But increasingly, scientists are sounding the alarm on yet another problem compounding the crisis…
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Court Rulings Give States New Power to Protect Groundwater

By Christopher Flavelle 02/29/24
After years of dangerous decline in the nation’s groundwater, a series of developments in Western states indicate that state and federal officials may begin tightening protections for the dwindling resource.
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Montana Court Restricts Use of Groundwater for New Homes

By Christopher Flavelle 02/16/24
A Montana judge has ruled that state officials have failed to impose adequate limits on the construction of new homes that rely on groundwater, a decision that could considerably curtail building in areas of the…
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The East Coast Is Sinking

By Mira Rojanasakul and Marco Hernandez 02/13/24
To stabilize early buildings in Boston, wood pilings were driven into water-logged earth where groundwater preserved the structures. Depletion of those aquifers has exposed the wood to air in some cases, causing foundations to rot.…
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In a Victory for Poland Spring, Maine Rejects New Groundwater Limits

By Hiroko Tabuchi 02/09/24
Maine’s Legislature voted down a bill that would have limited large-scale pumping of groundwater in the state. Poland Spring, the bottled-water giant, had lobbied aggressively against the measure.
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Environmentalists See Nevada Supreme Court Ruling Bringing State’s Water Management ‘Into the 21st Century’

By Wyatt Myskow 01/31/24
The Nevada Supreme Court unanimously ruled last week that the state can restrict new groundwater pumping if it will impact other users and wildlife, a decision that strikes a blow to the plan of a…
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Groundwater Levels Around the World Are Dropping Quickly, Often at Accelerating Rates

By Liza Gross 01/24/24
Groundwater supplies are dwindling in aquifers around the world, a groundbreaking new study found, with the rates of decline accelerating over the past four decades in nearly a third of aquifers studied.
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Strawberry Case Study: What If Farmers Had to Pay for Water?

By Coral Davenport 12/29/23
The strawberry, blackberry and raspberry fields of the Pajaro Valley stretch for 10 miles along the coast of California’s Monterey Bay, jeweled with fruit from April through early December. The valley’s 30,000 acres of farmland…
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KEY RESOURCES

A Tangle of Rules to Protect America’s Water Is Falling Short

11/02/23
AMERICA’S STEWARDSHIP of one of its most precious resources, groundwater, relies on a patchwork of state and local rules so lax and outdated that in many places oversight is all but nonexistent, a New York…

MORE NEWS

Airlines Race Toward a Future of Powering Their Jets With Corn

By By Max Bearak, Dionne Searcey and Mira Rojanasakul   11/30/23  
VAST STRETCHES OF AMERICA are dominated by corn, nearly 100 million acres of it, stretching from Ohio to the Dakotas. What once was forest or open prairie today produces the corn that feeds people, cattle…
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As Groundwater Dwindles, Powerful Players Block Change

By Christopher Flavelle   11/24/23  
From a small brick building in Garden City, Kan., 13 men manage the use of groundwater across five million acres in the southwest corner of the state, some of the most productive farmland in America…
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Oil and Gas Companies Spill Millions of Gallons of Wastewater in Texas

By Martha Pskowski, and Peter Aldhous   10/31/23  
The prolific oil and gas wells of Texas also generate billions of gallons of salty liquid known as produced water. A lot of this toxic water, just like crude oil, tends to get spilled.
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Inside Poland Spring’s Hidden Attack on Water Rules It Didn’t Like

By Hiroko Tabuchi   10/24/23  
When Maine lawmakers tried to rein in large-scale access to the state’s freshwater this year, the effort initially gained momentum. The state had just emerged from drought, and many Mainers were sympathetic to protecting their…
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‘Monster Fracks’ Are Getting Far Bigger. And Far Thirstier.

By Hiroko Tabuchi and Blacki Migliozzi   09/25/23  
Along a parched stretch of La Salle County, Texas, workers last year dug some 700 feet deep into the ground, seeking freshwater. Millions of gallons of it.
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Pincushion America revisited: The legacy of fracking on our drinking water

By Kurt Cobb   09/24/23  
Eleven years ago, I wrote about the how millions of holes drilled deep into American soil were already destined to pollute groundwater across the United States, making many areas uninhabitable to humans who rely on…
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In Minnesota, thirsty crops put ground water levels at risk

By Cathy Wurzer and Alanna Elder   09/07/23  
During the record-breaking drought of 2021, wells around the state went dry as farms drew six billion gallons more than their pumping permits allowed. One of the main culprits? The potato industry, which has an…
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A Colorado City Has Been Battling for Decades to Use Its Own Water

By David Gelles   09/05/23  
Jack Ethredge could see the future. It was 1985, and Mr. Ethredge, then the city manager of Thornton, Colo., understood that sooner or later, the Denver suburb would need more water.
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Big Farms and Flawless Fries Are Gulping Water in the Land of 10,000 Lakes

By Dionne Searcey and Mira Rojanasakul   09/03/23  
THE DROUGHT THAT GRIPPED MINNESOTA in the summer of 2021 was one of the worst on record. Day after day a blazing sun shriveled leaves, dried up waterfalls and turned ponds to puddles.
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Five Takeaways From Our Investigation Into America’s Groundwater Crisis

By Christopher Flavelle and Mira Rojanasakul   08/29/23  
A New York Times investigation has found that America is depleting its invaluable reserves of groundwater at a dangerous rate. The practice of overpumping water from vast aquifers is already having consequences nationwide. The majority…
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America Is Using Up Its Groundwater Like There’s No Tomorrow

By Mira Rojanasakul, Christopher Flavelle and Others   08/28/23  
Global warming has focused concern on land and sky as soaring temperatures intensify hurricanes, droughts and wildfires. But another climate crisis is unfolding, underfoot and out of view. Many of the aquifers that supply 90…
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Drift of Earth’s Pole Confirms Groundwater Depletion as a Significant Contributor to Global Sea Level Rise 1993–2010

By Ki-Weon Seo, Dongryeol Ryu and Others   06/15/23  
Climate model estimates show significant groundwater depletion during the 20th century, consistent with global mean sea level (GMSL) budget analysis. However, prior to the Argo float era, in the early 2000’s, there is little information…
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Arizona Limits Construction Around Phoenix as Its Water Supply Dwindles

By Christopher Flavelle and Jack Healy   06/01/23  
Arizona has determined that there is not enough groundwater for all of the housing construction that has already been approved in the Phoenix area, and will stop developers from building some new subdivisions, a sign…
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National Groundwater Awareness Week

03/11/23  
An annual observance established in 1999 to highlight the responsible development, management, and use of groundwater, the event is also a platform to encourage yearly water well testing and well maintenance, and the promotion of…
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There’s Something in the Water in Virginia. Before You Say ‘Yuck,’ Wait.

By Elena Shao   10/20/22  
Virginia doesn’t have a megadrought like some parts of the United States, but it has water problems all the same: Homes and businesses in the Hampton Roads region, in the southeastern corner of the state,…
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Groundwater depletion causes California farmland to sink. Stanford study shows water levels must rise to halt subsidence.

By Josie Garthwaite   06/02/22  
The floor of California’s arid Central Valley is sinking as groundwater pumping for agriculture and drinking water depletes aquifers. A new remote sensing study from Stanford University shows land sinking – or subsidence – will…
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Groundwater and climate change: The unseen connection

03/08/22  
The theme of this year’s National Groundwater Awareness Week, which runs through March 12, is “Groundwater awareness is important to you!” There are many reasons why groundwater is essential to health and the well-being of…
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How rising groundwater caused by climate change could devastate coastal communities

By Kendra Pierre-Louis   12/13/21  
Saulenas, along with her 46-year-old daughter Lauren, spent last winter—their covid winter—in Saugus, Massachusetts, in a house without a working furnace. Saulenas is in her 70s. Lauren, because of brain injuries she experienced in the…
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We must change our relationship to water, or lose it forever

By Max Mccoy   07/11/21  
Out past the 100th meridian things get dry damned quick. The meridian traditionally marks the line where the west begins and agriculture is difficult without irrigation. You can find it easily on a map of…
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The Ongoing Collapse of the World’s Aquifers

By Matt Simon   01/19/21  
California’s economy skyrocketed during the 20th century, its land headed in the opposite direction. A booming agricultural industry in the state’s San Joaquin Valley, combined with punishing droughts, led to the over-extraction of water from…
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Climate change’s impact on groundwater could leave ‘environmental timebomb’

By Daisy Dunne   01/21/19  
Over the next 100 years, the full impact that climate change is having on groundwater resources will become apparent in half of the world’s aquifers, a study concludes.
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