An interview I did recently spoke to issues of groundwater scarcity and said “we’re leaving the century of oil” and “entering the century of water.” Author Peter Annin, in that interview, said water scarcity would drive the political and policy debate in the 21st Century. This story in The New York Times shows how that debate is well under way in the High Plains region of the United States.
They interview Kansas farmer Ashley Yost. The center-pivot on the Yost family farm has gone from 1,600 gpm to 300 gpm. That change took 50 years, but drillers will know that the aquifer it’s drawing on took thousands of years to get to where a well sunk there would produce 1,600 gpm. A recharge to that level will take a long time, and won’t likely happen while drought and water-intensive farming continue.
Annin, in a talk he made at the 2013 Michigan Ground Water Association convention, compared recharge in the Great Lakes basin to a bank account with a modest rate of return. As long as you don’t draw more than that rate of return, you won’t go into overdraft. It sounds like parts of Kansas, Texas and other central states are already there.
Groundwater depletion is a serious issue. Here in the Great Lakes, we likely don’t think much about it. But a recent United States Geological Survey report concluded: “The cumulative volume of groundwater depletion in the United States during the 20th Century is large-totaling about 800 cubic kilometers.” That’s about 192 cubic miles, or about one-fifteenth of the water in Lake Superior. I know big numbers can get abstract quickly, so let’s put it this way: That’s enough to cover the entire U.S. more than three inches deep.
That same USGS report notes that the rate of depletion sped up during the first decade of the 21st Century, bringing estimated depletion since 1900 up to about 1,000 cubic kilometers, enough to cover the U.S. in about four inches of water.
I don’t have the answers. I just wanted to bring attention again to this issue and find out what your thoughts are. Do you work in a water-stressed area? Are you seeing more regulations on where you can drill? Is your state making some aquifers off-limits to give them a chance to recover.
Let me know.
As always, stay safe out there drillers.