The annual World Water Day first launched in 1993, and it’s designed to raise awareness for the 2 billion people who are currently living without access to safe water. That being said, it’s also a celebration for water’s role in all of our lives!
A key component of that is to understand how we can protect this critical resource and appreciate our own community’s ability to tap into the local natural groundwater supply. Taking action to preserve what we have—and to help others—will ensure we’ll continue to thrive. Moreover, we’ll help give future generations the same advantages.
Groundwater—Making the Invisible Visible
World Water Day is held on March 22 every year, and the theme for 2022 is groundwater. This campaign is organized by the United Nations Observance, which helps inspire everyone the world over to balance the needs of both people and our planet.
The Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 6 is to focus on water and sanitation for the world by the year 2030. And clearly there’s a long way to go. That’s why recognizing groundwater’s importance is so important. It still isn’t fully recognized.
Groundwater is the most abundant source of freshwater on Earth. Yet it’s largely misunderstood, in part because it’s a hidden resource that most people don’t often think about. Locating groundwater is relatively straightforward. Unfortunately, we have limited data on its available, current state, and use. Without that awareness, then we also won’t understand what we need to change.
We find groundwater in aquifers, the geological formations of rocks, sands, and gravels underground. From there, groundwater works to feed our springs, rivers, lakes, and wetlands. It also migrates into the oceans.
Rainfall and snow rebuild our groundwater supplies. But with that, we’re also extracting groundwater at accelerated rates with our pumps and wells. In many areas, this over-use eventually drains the resource in those underground pockets. And in other areas, the groundwater is polluted and requires an intensive remediation process. The associated costs can even prevent populations from using their groundwater altogether.
Without sufficient insight into how these groundwater levels are changing, far too many people are at risk for long-term water scarcity. That’s why this year’s World Water Day theme is so crucial. We can’t understand what we don’t measure. We need more research and policy changes to prevent these problems from continuing.
The Decline of Groundwater Resources
Climate change and droughts are putting more stress on our groundwater now more than ever, so we need to be using these resources more sustainably. The most stressful factors in play here are the global population growth, urbanization, and agricultural intensification. The last is arguably be the most dangerous of all.
Fertilizer runoff contributes high levels of nitrate contaminants into our groundwater. Additionally, the groundwater resources we need to grow our food aren’t always available. The high demand for water for both farming and everyday use rapidly depletes the supply. While we certainly need to increase food production, agriculture is the largest consumer of the globe’s freshwater resources.
Worse, even when available, groundwater isn’t always safe to use. For example, across Africa, there are ongoing challenges with the sanitation infrastructure. The effects of that on groundwater can dramatically reduce the amount of freshwater available in a region. We also see these same problems occurring in the United States, where Tribal Nations are still dealing with cruel setbacks for access to clean water.
Protecting Groundwater with New Policy Directives
There are multiple ways to lower the risks of groundwater depletion and to reduce contamination. We need to continue developing strong policies on energy, land use, and irrigation. We should remember that this is a global concern. Groundwater crosses borders. That means it’s critical to tackle this as a collaborative effort. Otherwise, we could be facing long-term conflicts and suffering. Everyone deserves to have reliable access to clean water.
More research and monitoring are just some of the ways to address the problem. Both local and transboundary groundwater resources need to be measured. We also to make sure that they are being used sustainably.
New policies can work to protect the groundwater supplies we have today. It’s in all of our best interests for them to accessible for years to come. Following sustainable practices now and working to adapt our current practices help keep our groundwater resources safe.
We can take individual action by monitoring our own water use at home. But there’s also the responsibility of driving new directives forward. We need elected officials to implement policies to correct manufacturing processes and pollution with better groundwater governance. Along with that, we need to monitor groundwater more effectively. Water science and research will go a long way to improve global health.
Please join us in raising awareness for the 2022 World Water Day. In reality though, water awareness, and groundwater in particular, should happen year-round! Feel free to share this article, and inspire others to do their part!