Groundwater: the neglected resource

I just returned from the Universities Council on Water Resources (UCOWR) conference in Durham, NC. For water wonks like me, it was a fascinating confluence of people and ideas. One topic that consistently appeared on the agenda was ground water and its neglect by state, federal and local agencies.

Ground water is a neglected resource from both a quality and quantity perspective. Often, we don’t worry excessively about how much of it we can extract before the loss becomes apparent.  Collectively, we worry less about how usable the water is until something untoward happens (as in the case of groundwater contamination in Love Canal, NY, now 30 years ago and Hinkley, CA, the setting for Erin Brockovich’s famous tale of chromium contamination).  Worse yet, while municipalities that depend upon it map and measure both quantity and quality, well owners are generally left in the dark between establishing a well and selling their land.  And that’s just the case in only slightly more regulated environment of Oregon.

At the same time, the US Geological Survey has just published a report that maps the ground water of the United States.  Below is the abstract. You can access the full report by visiting this link.  In Oregon, some interesting events will come up this fall/winter regarding ground water and wells. Stay tuned to H2ONC for more information.

Ground water is among the Nation’s most important natural resources. It provides half our drinking water and is essential to the vitality of agriculture and industry, as well as to the health of rivers, wetlands, and estuaries throughout the country. Large-scale development of ground-water resources with accompanying declines in ground-water levels and other effects of pumping has led to concerns about the future availability of ground water to meet domestic, agricultural, industrial, and environmental needs. The challenges in determining ground-water availability are many. This report examines what is known about the Nation’s ground-water availability and outlines a program of study by the U.S. Geological Survey Ground-Water Resources Program to improve our understanding of ground-water availability in major aquifers across the Nation. The approach is designed to provide useful regional information for State and local agencies who manage ground-water resources, while providing the building blocks for a national assessment. The report is written for a wide audience interested or involved in the management, protection, and sustainable use of the Nation’s water resources. http://pubs.usgs.gov/circ/1323/

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