There is a limit to our groundwater supply | TheUnion.com

There is a limit to our groundwater supply

Stephen J. Baker
Columnist

It doesn't stare you in the face. If you stick your head in the sand, you may actually see it. I'm talking about groundwater. California uses more groundwater than any other state in the nation. In fact, over 65 percent of California's drinking water is currently supplied from wells. This groundwater is used for public water supplies, farms, factories, towns and, of course, our homes.

During the beginning of the new millennia, groundwater extraction in California was estimated at 17 million acre-feet of water. It's important to recognize that an acre-foot of water is the amount of water that covers one acre with one single foot of water. That's 325,900 gallons for every acre-foot. Most of this water was for agricultural purposes but about 3.4 million acre-feet was for domestic and public water supplies. That is quite an impressive dependency on groundwater.

In an average year, natural recharge from rainfall and seepage through the bottom of streams totals approximately 7 million acre-feet of water. The usage of groundwater is approximately 1.5 million acre-feet more. This means that California water users are pulling out more water than is being replenished by recharge over a period of many years. Knowing this certainly causes you to think about how this resource can be made more sustainable.

But let's remember, we are not the only ones pumping water from the ground. Natural outflow occurs where springs, seeps and sections of rivers are present. Vegetation also has a very significant usage rate on groundwater.

If we are interested in managing our groundwater resources better, then careful consideration of a variety of elements is needed to find workable solutions. Good, effective groundwater management relies on five major elements; political, legal, institutional, technical and economic.

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If we are interested in managing our groundwater resources better, then careful consideration of a variety of elements is needed to find workable solutions. Good, effective groundwater management relies on five major elements; political, legal, institutional, technical and economic. These elements are each interrelated and create the cumulative effect on the health of our water resources.

Garret Hardin wrote in his book, "Tragedy of the Commons" that unlimited access to a natural resource, in which everybody can use the resource but no one is responsible for managing the resource, is a tragedy of the commons. The result of this tragedy is that each party contributes by acting in their personal interest. They maximize their use of the resource. This contributes to the depletion of the resource.

Foothill communities in the Sierras use, cumulatively, tens of thousands of water wells. Are our aquifers being slowly emptied, in the big picture? Significant problems were not regionally recognized in many parts of California during the 1960s, or 70s or even the 80s or 90s, so does a pressing water issue exist in the 2000s? Conditions are different. The population was nothing in the past as compared to now. How much closer to the aquifer's true limit are we? Can we at least set into motion an early warning system that can provide the canary in the mine? It takes time to create water contingencies and alternative water sources. Well, what do you think? Your thoughts can make a difference. Let us know on "Operation Unite's Face book fan page or email stevebaker@operationunite.com.

Stephen J. Baker is Founder of Operation Unite and Living Water programming. The mission of Operation Unite is to bring people together to solve water problems. Contact him at 530-478-1260 or stevebaker@operationunite.co

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