It’s no secret that drinkable water is one of the most precious and finite resources on Earth; now an eminent Australian water scientist is urging the world yet again to take better care of its groundwater supplies to avert certain catastrophe. Professor Craig Simmons, director of Australia’s National Center for Groundwater Research and Training (NGCRT), said that if groundwater sources run dry the world could run into a host of troubles – from agricultural and economic shortages to full-on water wars.
Groundwater is estimated to make up 97 percent of the world’s available fresh water, which is already a miniscule amount compared to 2.5 percent of all freshwater on Earth. According to the NGCRT’s research, this number has only been shrinking as global groundwater usage shot up to 1,000 cubic kilometers (roughly 264,172 gallons) a year. The center estimates since 1900, the global population has used up 4,500 cubic kilometers of its groundwater reserves, and demand is only increasing as countries like India and China continue to grow their economies.
Groundwater is just under the threat of being used up; there is also the ongoing risk of contamination pollution those resources that do exist. Any water simply lying underground, unshielded by bedrock, could be polluted by man-made chemicals, arsenic, or salinity from seawater contamination.
“All round the world, especially beneath the great cities, groundwater faces a sustained deterioration in quality due to human activities which use ever-increasing amounts of toxic chemicals, many of which leach from landfills and industrial sites into aquifers used by city people for drinking water,” Simmons warned in an interview with PhysOrg. “UNESCO has warned that, because groundwater usually moves very slowly, groundwater pollution is almost irreversible, or at least, very persistent.”
In a call for action, Simmons says governments around the world need to get behind the UNESCO plan to develop a Global Framework for Action on groundwater governance. Hence, he says, there needs to be better groundwater governance – whether this includes rapid global sharing of best practices, good laws and regulations, effective policy options, ideas, advanced technologies, or greater public awareness. Simmons also points to a few examples of successful conservation initiatives, such as capping the Great Artesian Basin and building a water management system for the Murray Darling Basin.
UNESCO plans to develop a Global Framework for Action on groundwater governance, now the question remains if governmental agencies around the world will take heed of Simmons’ advice.