Cumulative groundwater depletion in the coastal plain aquifer system of Georgia and adjacent northeast Florida, 1900 through 2008. Graphic: USGS

By Todd Woody
20 May 2013

(Quartz) – A report released today by the US Geological Survey (USGS) today shows that Americans are sucking dry the aquifers that irrigate their crops and supply their drinking water. Between 1900 and 2008, the US lost 1,000 cubic kilometers (240 cubic miles) of groundwater. That’s twice the volume of the water in Lake Erie.

It gets worse.  The rate of groundwater depletion is accelerating, according to the study of 40 major US aquifers. Between 1900 and 2008, the US lost an average of 9.2 cubic kilometers of groundwater annually as the growth of cities and industrial agriculture tapped underground reserves. But between 2000 and 2008, groundwater depletion jumped 171% to an average of 25 cubic kilometers a year. In just those nine years, the amount of water pumped from the Ogallala aquifer, which supplies a large swath of the US, was equivalent to 32% of the water that was depleted from the Ogallala during the entire 20th century.

“Although groundwater depletion is rarely assessed and poorly documented, it is becoming recognized as an increasingly serious global problem that threatens sustainability of water supplies,” the USGS scientists wrote.

Climate change likely contributed to the spike as droughts reduce rainfall and snowmelt. In California, for instance, a falloff in Sierra Nevada mountain snow that supplies water to the state’s multibillion-dollar agriculture industry led to increased pumping of groundwater in the Central Valley. [more]

Forget peak oil—start worrying about peak water



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