What if I told you that there was an oil reservoir that contained about 98% of our total proved oil reserves but that it did not get much attention from 'experts' at international meetings? You'd probably think I was daft. How could experts ignore such a resource?
Now let's do that again, except that instead of 'oil reservoir' and 'proved oil reserves' we substitute 'liquid Groundwater: The 'Rodney Dangerfield' of the Hydrologic Cycle freshwater reservoir' and 'total liquid freshwater reserves', respectively. Your response would be the same, perhaps expressing more incredulity.
But it's true - provided we are discussing groundwater. Yes, about 98% of the world's unfrozen freshwater is under the ground in the saturated zone - groundwater [see info about groundwater use in the USA]
You'd say, "Come on! Who could ignore that much water?"
Let me continue with the tale after noting that some of this was initially posted by me on the AWRA blog. What really got me going was an item posted by the EPAresearch Twitter (see below). So after discussing the 'dissing of groundwater' issue with colleagues at recent conferences (IWRA, OU International WaTER Conference) I have decided to expand upon my contention, using Rodney Dangerfield's 'I don't get no respect' lament as a hook, an approach I introduced at the 16 September 2011 UN meeting.
Most of you know that I was trained as a hydrogeologist but about 20 years into my career, in the mid-1990s, I went over to the ‘dark side’ (according to some of my science and engineering colleagues) and became more involved in policy and management. That’s still true, but I am drifting back to groundwater because I am frankly amazed and appalled that, given its far greater abundance than liquid fresh surface water, groundwater does not seem to be given much respect or even mention these days in the climate change and policy realms, except, of course, at groundwater conferences like those of the National Ground Water Association and the International Association of Hydrogeologists.
This was brought home at last July's UCOWR-NIWR conference. The first plenary session dealt with ‘Water in the West’, with keynote speakers from the Western Governors’ Association (Tom Iseman) and NOAA (Roger Pulwarty). Both gave very good presentations, with the latter’s weighted toward climate change. During the Q&A, Mike Wireman, an EPA hydrogeologist, cut to the chase and inquired why groundwater had not been discussed, or barely mentioned, and why this seemed to be the case whenever climate change was discussed. Pulwarty, one of the smartest guys in the room on climate change and policy, sheepishly admitted this was indeed the case and Iseman acknowledged that the Western governors had no policy on groundwater (maybe that's not a bad thing).
Wireman would also be distressed to know that on 14 July the EPAresearch Twitter noted that 20% of the world’s freshwater and 80% of North America’s freshwater are in the North American Great Lakes. See the 18 July AWRA blog post for my response to this misinformation.
I have especially noted the lack of groundwater at some of the large international conferences, such as the annual World Water Week in Stockholm (I confess I have attended this only twice - in 2005 and 2006) and the triennial World Water Forum, last held in 2009.
At my first World Water Week in 2005 I noticed that no one was discussing groundwater. I soon learned that a student of mine (actually she had taken - of all things - my groundwater hydrology course about 25 years ago) had been involved in the high-level planning of WWW. I had not seen her since she graduated, so at lunch I inquired about the lack of groundwater. She promised to look into it, but 2006 was SOS. I will note that at one of the WWWs I attended there was a 'side event' on groundwater (in Africa, I think). Being allowed to have a 'side event' is like being told, 'We don't think your topic is that important or interesting, but we'll stick you somewhere at an odd hour so you can talk amongst yourselves.'
At the 2009 WWF we made inroads getting groundwater on the agenda. I foolishly figured that for 2012 we would not have to reinvent the wheel. Silly me! It looks like our 2009 gains count for nothing with the 2012 6th WWF in Marseille.
The lack of groundwater's inclusion in climate change discussions is troubling and shortsighted. What with the coming desiccation of surface water supplies, countries will likely turn to groundwater for short- or long-term water supply. Since many of these groundwater resources are transnational....well, you get the picture. I've yet to see some think tank or similar organization specifically address that issue although I know individuals who are. It's the SOS - focusing on river basins, which is okay, but not to the exclusion of groundwater.
And I haven't even discussed groundwater pollution!
Lest you think I am overreacting: when I mention this 'no respect for groundwater' to fellow hydrogeologists I get enthusiastic affirmation. When I tell them of my blog plans, they say, 'Do it'.
The next question: why this neglect of such an important resource?
And don't get me started on groundwater and IWRM.
To be continued....
Note added on 31 October 2011: The video of my UN talk is now available.
Note added on 8 November 2011: Huffington Post has picked up on this, and one organization, Visualizing.org is announcing a contest based upon visualizing groundwater. Winner gets a billboard onTimes Square.
“I told my psychiatrist that everyone hates me. He said I was being ridiculous - everyone hasn't met me yet.” - Rodney Dangerfield