Groundwater depletion in the US accelerating

In a study of US groundwater depletion from 1900-2008 by Leonard F. Konikow at the USGS (United States Geological Survey), the rate of depletion in 2008 was 3 times the rate for the entire study time frame. And the pace is accelerating:

Groundwater withdrawals in the United States have increased dramatically during the 20th century—more than doubling from 1950 through 1975. Groundwater depletion is the inevitable and natural consequence of withdrawing water from an aquifer.

USGS Groundwater depletion

This is important, because:

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.

Interestingly, lacking a large enough realtime data source, the author had to assemble data from many sources to estimate depletion (including NASA’s GRACE satellite), saying:

“A variety of methods were used to estimate long-term depletion in this study. The most reliable depend on direct measurements of water-level changes in the aquifer systems.”

The complete report is here:

See you in Texas!

Smart Grid mistakes lead to groundwater grid opportunity

Next week, Team Wellntel will be at the NGWA (National Ground Water Association) show in San Antonio, Texas presenting “Groundwater Grid: The Electric Smart Grid Offers Lessons Learned and Avoidable Pitfalls When Monitoring Groundwater.”

We’re speaking on Monday, April 29, 2013: 04:20PM – 05:40PM, at the Hyatt Regency San Antonio, Regency East 2.

Hope to see you there!

New Atlas: Water Rights in California

California Water Rights Atlas

California Water Rights Atlas

Central Valley Business Times is reporting on a new developing in publicly shared infomration about water resource.

The first-ever public “California Water Rights Atlas,” designed to enables citizens, policymakers, media and others to view thousands of current California water rights claims via the Internet is being unveiled Friday by former Brown Administration Resources Secretary Huey Johnson, president of the Resource Renewal Institute.

RRI is a nonprofit, public interest organization. It says it is providing the information to the people of California free of charge.

The Water Rights Atlas addresses California’s water crisis by opening, organizing, and distilling “dysfunctional state-level data to improve efficiency and access for water resource managers and the public,” the institute says.

Read more here

Or open the Atlas, here

Texas lawmaker proposing mandatory well metering

We’re watching a developing story that has us wondering: will irrigators soon be forced to measure consumption? And if so, will supply side information inform smarter policy? This from StateImpact:

A Texas lawmaker has introduced a bill that would help the state keep better track of how much water it’s using. State Senator Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, has filed a bill, SB 272, requiring most farmers to report their water usage to the Texas Water Development Board.

Photo credit: Kel Seliger

“It’s important to have an empirical measure of groundwater being removed from the modeled available groundwater,” Seliger tells StateImpact Texas. “So we know where we are at all times.”

Most of the water in Texas is used for farming and ranching, 56 percent of it. And much of that water comes from sources underground. So water planners need to understand how much is being used from those resources they can’t necessarily see. The Ogallala Aquifer in the Texas Panhandle, for instance, experienced its largest drop in 25 years in 2011.

Read the full story at StateImpact.

Groundwater Concerns in the Land of Lakes

Minnesota’s Star Tribune is reporting that the water cycle in the Twin Cities area is far out of balance with withdrawals surpassing the rate of recharge. Experts are predicting that unsustainable consumption will force farmers and residents to go elsewhere. The state’s DNR is starting to tackle in the problem.

Source: Star Tribune, USGS, Mark Boswell

[Minnesota] DNR water officials say it’s time for local communities to start making decisions on water, rather than the state, because the current rates of use are not sustainable.

“If you fail to make a choice, then at some point the aquifer will do that for you,” said Jason Moeckel, a water manager for the DNR.This year the DNR will ask one or two water-strapped communities to bring in their biggest water users — cities, farmers, ethanol plants and others — to negotiate conflicts among themselves. It’s never been done in Minnesota, and though many may like the idea of “local control,” the reality may be much more contentious, officials say.“Everyone likes [it] until they have to be a bad guy to their neighbor,” said Jim Sehl, a DNR water manager. “That’s going to be the toughest selling point — getting people to accept responsibility for making those tough decisions.

”Such choices may come as a shock to to Minnesotans’ assumptions about water, said Deborah Swackhamer, co-director of the Water Resources Center at the University of Minnesota.

Elsewhere in the country per-capita water use is declining, but not in the Land of 10,000 Lakes. That, she said, could require hard adjustments. Higher prices for water could result, or more water recycling, or the controversial idea of allowing cities to re-inject treated water back into aquifers.

via Minnesota draining its supplies of water |

The Changing Economics of Deep Aquifers

Mexico City water fountain

While aquifers occur at varying depths, it’s traditionally been the shallow aquifers (generally 500 feet or less) that populations have tapped for drinking water, irrigation and commercial activity because of the relative ease and low cost associated. However, in places like Mexico City, where population and changing weather patterns have overburdened shallow aquifers and made recharge difficult or insufficient, deeper aquifers are getting a second look.

In a front-page article Monday in the newspaper Reforma bearing the fevered headline “Water in Sight!” the director of the city water system, Ramon Aguirre, described the discovery as “one of the biggest historical successes for the city.” He said the aquifer was capable of supplying water for more than 100 years.
Aguirre said he expected the city to initially drill five wells to draw water from the aquifer, a project that could cost about $40 million.

The challenge with deep water aquifers has always been one of economics. The cost of drilling the wells and powering the pumps as well as the likely additional cost of treating the water have combined to make deep water aquifers unattractive. However, with few alternatives and burgeoning populations, we anticipate that more cities like Mexico City will look to deep aquifers as a critical water source.

Read the article here:

Wisconsin: Where water is ample, but water information is not

Wisconsin Capital

Recently, the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled on a case that pitted citizens near Lake Beulah against the Department of Natural Resources. The case will have wide ripple effects.

Residents were concerned that a new high capacity groundwater well would cause water levels to drop on the lake, and property values to follow. The DNR had issued a permit without having studied the environmental impacts sufficiently, according to the petitioners.

The court’s ruling found:

  1. “The DNR has the authority and a general duty to consider potential environmental harm to waters of the state when reviewing a high capacity well permit.”
  2. The DNR is not required “to investigate the potential environmental harm of every high capacity well application …”
  3. … however, “the DNR is required to consider the environmental impact … … when presented with sufficient concrete, scientific evidence”
  4. “Citizens must present any evidence of potential harm to the [DNR] before the [permit] decision is made, or risk losing the ability to challenge the DNR’s discretionary decision.”

So the DNR has to act with citizens in mind, protecting the public trust through well permitting approvals and enforcement, but citizens must act too. Discussions of natural resource protections are, indeed, community wide, so some of the facts must come from residential well-owners. This has practical merit, since citizens bear many of the costs and consequences of the DNR’s decisions. Lacking simple tools, however, it’s hard for people to do, so it almost never happens. Finally, with shrinking public budgets and fewer agency resources, future data collection and analysis to inform development decisions will fall to citizens more often than not.

Our market research finds that in the US alone, homeowners and farmers who depend on groundwater pay upwards of $1.2 billion dollars a year to keep water flowing from their own wells, even as large consumers like cities are tapping the same groundwater and perhaps causing aquifers to shrink.

In order to defend their water and their property values, homeowners will need information and they’ll have to share it to support the science.

But how will homeowners with wells participate in scientific environmental impact studies? The key is cost and simplicity.

Wellntel has a team of scientists and technologists working on the problem. We have filed patents on new technology that will inexpensively collect information about groundwater and help citizens to share what they know with agencies like the DNR. This will help the DNR to better understand the environmental impact of their decisions, and support future decisions with ample facts.

Well owners and water well contractors can use Wellntel’s low cost sensors to monitoring the health of the water supply and take preventive steps to avoid expensive well failures. As importantly, with insights into groundwater health and trends in their neighborhoods, they’ll become key stakeholders, along with the DNR, in protecting Wisconsin’s water.

Wellntel sees a future, just a few years from now, where agencies with large responsibilities to ensure the public trust cooperate with the public to gather information to improve their work and make Wisconsin a better place.

Copyright 2013 Wellntel, Inc. All rights reserved.

Aquifer depletion and data shortage top water issues list

Geopoliticalmonitor report also cites farming pressures, mass migration, and climate change as major threats to water security.

Key Quote: By 2030, we will need enough water to support an additional billion people, and the burning question is: where will this water come from? Global fresh water supplies that are readily available are already in decline and most governance structures are unable to adequately manage long-term supply. Of particular concern is the fact that global groundwater levels are falling at drastic rates. Groundwater accounts for nearly half of the drinking water in the world, and it is used to grow food that millions of people rely on. But out of sight means out of mind, and there is little data on how much water actually exists in these underground lakes. As a result, most of them are not managed sustainably or equitably.

Read the complete report here: Canada and the Global Water Crisis: A GPM Interview – Geopolitical Monitor.

Talking #groundwater in Texas


We hope to see you at the National Ground Water Association‘s 2013 NGWA Summit — The National and International Conference on Groundwater, held Sunday, April 28, 2013 through Thursday, May 2, 2013 in San Antonio, TX.

We’ll be presenting “Groundwater Grid: The Electric SmartGrid offers Lessons Learned and Avoidable Pitfalls when Monitoring Groundwater”

Here is the abstract:

Smart grid pilot programs often demonstrate that the key to effectively lowering energy consumption and gaining new capacity from a limited supply is not the remote control of energy consuming devices. Instead, real conservation comes as a consequence of putting clear information about energy usage and costs into the hands of the people who pay for it or are charged with the stewardship of systems that depend on it.

Water policy-makers, regulators and advocates would be well-served to consider a groundwater monitoring system that taps lessons learned and avoids pitfalls found in Smart Grid development. Water information systems must meet consumer (and trusted advisor) needs first, since most consumers, and the well-drillers that they depend on for services, have a stake in the resource itself, in the form of either land ownership or economic dependency within a region. Moreover, any platform that shares information about groundwater must have the ability to do more than just spot-check or be the basis for new development or regulations. Groundwater monitoring can, and should be designed to allow anyone with a well to see not just their own impact on the resource, but the bigger picture too: resource health, trends, factors that contribute to risk.

Moreover, a modern groundwater grid should allow policy to be designed not on supposition and estimates, but instead, on facts, netting workable pricing and policy that feels, to the informed consumer stakeholder, like a logical, thoughtful agreement, not a heavy-handed remote control imposition.

A Groundwater Grid can, as the Smart Grid sometimes does, relieve heavy pressures on a finite resource. But unlike electricity, water resources can renew without massive spending. So water monitoring systems are a worthy, albeit a necessarily carefully planned, investment.

This presentation will explain how useful, democratized water information, at the right price and in the hands of the right stakeholders, is key to sustainable groundwater practices.

Business awareness of water-risk growing

Awareness of the impact of water related issues on business operations is growing.

The CDP Global Water Report, which surveyed 185 of 318 companies listed on the FTSE Global Equity Index Series (Global 500), found 68 percent of companies view water as a substantial risk to their business.

Companies are even beginning to reach into their supply chains to understand risk.

Nearly four in 10 respondents (39 percent) require their key suppliers to report on water-related risks, up from 26 percent in 2011.

However, they aren’t yet willing – or able – to share that risk awareness with shareholders.

…despite increased awareness and activity among some companies, 60 percent of companies responding to the survey—the same result as last year— indicated a lack of transparency with investors.

One bright spot in awareness and action: General Motors.

(GM) has improved the water efficiency of its manufacturing plants. Its assembly plant in San Luis Potosi, Mexico was designed with a zero discharge concept and 90 percent its wastewater is treated onsite and re-used to make vehicles. Well water consumption has been reduced by 20 million gallons per year, as a result.


CDP Global Water Report

CDP Global Water Report