Kind of a funny question coming from someone who just finished co-chairing a conference on nonrenewable ground water. So what prompted this question, surely one that will generate more controversy than "Is ground water one word or two?"
Yesterday morning I had an enjoyable hour-long phone conversation with Elizabeth Royte (that's pronounced 'Royt'), author of Bottlemania and other books. The topic of renewable versus nonrenewable ground water arose because of a comment directed to her on the Competitive Enterprise Institute's WWW site EnjoyBottledWater.org. The CEI has mounted an aggressive campaign to promote bottled water.
There is a section on the WWW site titled Ground Water Is Renewable by Dr. Angela Logomasini:
Environmental activists have been claiming that if we keep bottling ground water, we will eventually run out. In the book Bottlemania, the author even calls water a “finite” resource. This is very silly. Ground water is replenished naturally via precipitation. Check out this research paper on the topic. It highlights the fact that not only do groundwater resources replenish, the amount accessed for bottled water is tiny. The author, Keith N. Eshleman, Ph.D.– Associate Professor, University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science–notes:
“Ground water withdrawals for bottled water production represent only 0.019% of the total fresh ground water withdrawals in the U.S. In comparison, agricultural use of ground water (irrigation) comprises 65% (17,885 billion gallons) of total ground water withdrawals on a national basis. … Ground water supplies are continuously ‘recharged’ or replenished by precipitation, thus ground water resources are considered ‘renewable.’ Based on data published by the U.S. Geological Survey, the 1995 renewable ground water supply was determined to be 1,270.4 billion gallons per day or 463,696 billion gallons per year. Bottled water production was found to use an infinitesimal percentage of renewable supplies at the national scale and in all but one water resource region (Lower Colorado). It was determined that annual bottled water production accounted for only 0.0012% of the nation’s total renewable supply.”
I have no arguments with Dr. Eshleman's claim that water used for bottled water is, in toto, quite small. But of course, that depends upon the site-specific situation. If some bottler is tapping into your water supply, then the water used may not be insignifcant.
Here is where the nonrenewable versus renewable comes into play - the first three sentences:
Environmental activists have been claiming that if we keep bottling ground water, we will eventually run out. In the book Bottlemania, the author [Elizabeth Royte] even calls water a “finite” resource. This is very silly.
Royte's statement is not very silly. Yes, groundwater is replenished by precipitation. Yes, a lot of ground water is renewable. And I don't think bottling ground water is going to cause us to run out of ground water (on a global scale). But on a local scale - it depends.
But in the renewable vs. nonrenewable argument what makes things difficult is the the rate of replenishment (recharge), which in some cases, may be extremely low, requiring hundreds or thousands of years to replenish the aquifer. So in human terms, these aquifers are treated as being "nonrenewable".
There are some aquifers - the ones in North Africa come to mind, as does the portion of the High Plains (aka Ogallala) aquifer beneath the Texas Panhandle - that are not replenished at rates high enough to replace what has been withdrawn by pumping. In these aquifers, people talk about "mining" ground water, just like you "mine" coal. You are extracting a resource that, as far as you're concerned, will not be replaced or renewed. This is one definition of nonrenewable ground water. For others, read the first paragraph and citations in our nonrenewable ground water conference report:
And finally, for you technogeeks, read one of my favorite papers by three ground water giants: John Bredehoeft, Steve Papadopulos, and Hilton H. Cooper, Jr., Groundwater: The Water Budget Myth. It's still relevant after 26 years. They repeat C.V. Theis's mantra that when you start pumping, ground water levels will continue to decline and some water will be "mined" until you reach a new equilibrium either by increasing recharge or decreasing natural discharge, or some combination of both.
So to call someone "very silly" for invoking the concepts of "finite" or "nonrenewable" when discussing ground water is, well, very silly itself.
“I may not be an expert in hydrogeology, but I did stay in a Holiday Inn Express last night.” – Unknown