Just got a nice email from Jay Famiglietti (we both find it hard to believe that we have yet to meet) advising me of a great (my assessment, not his) post on his Water 50/50 blog, "Rallying Around Our Known Unknowns: What We Don't Know Will Hurt Us".
It is a compelling article that will appear in the July 2012 newsletter of the AGU Hydrology Section.
Famiglietti does not mince words (see today's quote below). Here are the salient points from his article:
In short, in my opinion, our nation’s hydrologic modeling assets are simply not up to the task of addressing our most pressing societal issues of food, energy, water and national security. We are behind where we need to be, and we are falling behind other nations.
To illustrate, here are a few of what I’ve been calling the ‘unfortunate realities’ of modern hydrology.
1) We don’t know how much fresh water we have on land. Not stored as groundwater, or surface water, as soil moisture, or as snow. Believe it. It’s true. Many estimates, for example, of continental scale groundwater supplies, are simply guesses based on ad hoc assumptions. Others are reports of water storage in man-made reservoirs. It is unclear to me how we can address sustainable water management without knowing how much water is actually on and in the ground.
2) Our knowledge of Earth’s surface and shallow subsurface, i.e., its water environment, including its digital representation, remains appallingly insufficient. At the surface, we know little about the bathymetry of rivers and lakes. We have no idea how deep our soils are, at least at the larger regional, national and global scales. While two-dimensional maps of global hydrogeology are now available, the third dimension, as well as basic aquifer parameters, remain a mystery at national and global scales.
3) Our global monitoring system…for river discharge, for groundwater extraction, for water use…is insufficient for tracking even the most fundamental changes in water storage and availability. It doesn’t have to be that way, but for a host of political and socioeconomic reasons, it is.
To review then: we don’t really know how much water we have; we don’t have a detailed picture of our water environment; and we don’t do such a great job of measuring its storage and flows within it. How in the world have we let this happen?
What's chilling is that it's not just groundwater, "The Hidden Sea" (as Frank Chapelle titled his wonderful book), that is poorly-known. It is other components of the hydrologic cycle and the landscape.
I'll add my ten cents about our lack of groundwater knowledge. Forget the global, national and regional scales; at many statewide and smaller scales we just don't know how much groundwater there is. Just tell some groundwater pumpers you want to meter their withdrawals and water levels. Then head for the door. That's the way it is in many places. And even in those places where monitoring is accepted, when the budget cuts come, that's the first thing to go. And it is rarely restored. I've actually heard federal and state legislators complain about funding water monitoring because it's not real work, or it's never used, or we have been doing it long enough, or any number of other lame reasons. And if you are an agency head, if given the choice between monitoring and personnel, well...
Be sure to read the entire article.
And try to see Last Call at the Oasis; the work of Famiglietti and his group is featured in the film.
"We're screwed." - Jay Famiglietti, Last Call at the Oasis