Self-promotion alert! It will be obvious...
The American Water Resources Association (AWRA), of which I am a past president, celebrates its 50th year in 2014. The annual conference will be in the DC area (Tysons Corner, VA) with the theme, Fifty Years of Water Resources Management: Where Have We Been, Where are We Going?
In keeping with that theme, the January 14 issue of AWRA's Water Resources IMPACT features short articles focused on AWRA at 50: The Future of Water Resources in the United States.
The issue is free to members only but here is the Table of Contents: Download 1401IMPACT_toc
I wrote a short article on Groundwater Management: Quo Vadis? I have reproduced it below and PDFed it as well. Enjoy!
Citation: Campana, Michael E., 2014. ‘Groundwater Management: Quo Vadis?’. In Fitch, Eric J. and Richard A. Engberg, (eds.), ‘AWRA at 50: The Future of Water Resources in the United States’. Water Resources IMPACT 16(1): 26-28.
‘We cite with pride our possession of a fifth of the world’s liquid fresh water, although only a third of that is renewed by rain or snow.’
The aforementioned quote, from a recent book (Pentland and Wood, 2013, p. 6) about Canadian water policy, sounds true enough. Everyone knows Canada has lots of fresh water. Similarly, when a well-known Federal agency states (via Twitter) that the North American Great Lakes hold about 20% of the world’s liquid fresh water, most people would nod approvingly.
But each of the aforementioned statements is incorrect; in each case, the word ‘surface’ as a modifier of ‘water’ is required. If you include groundwater, which by itself comprises about 97% of the world’s liquid fresh water, then neither Canada nor the Great Lakes holds anywhere near 20% of the world’s liquid fresh water.
Why nitpick about the amount of surface water? It illustrates a major issue with groundwater: it is often forgotten or dismissed by experts. In fact, I have even christened groundwater ‘the Rodney Dangerfield of the hydrologic cycle’ – it gets no respect. Even when it is not ignored, it is often misunderstood. It does not behave like surface water, which can be compartmentalized into easily-visualized watersheds. Groundwater can be so delineated, often with difficulty, although its groundwatersheds do not necessarily correspond to surficial watersheds. Furthermore, aquifers in a vertical stack may each have a different groundwatershed. And just as importantly, groundwater is generally dominated by its stocks (large relative to its flows), whereas surface water is more apt to be characterized by its flows. A corollary to the last statement is that groundwater generally has much longer residence/response times than flowing surface water.
Suffice it to say that managing groundwater as a component of an integrated system is a daunting task. The dominant paradigm of water management today – Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM) – does not neglect groundwater, but its watershed-based approach is not conducive to effective groundwater management in many cases.
In this brief article I will focus on the current state of groundwater management and speculate upon its fate in 2050.
By The GRACE Of Technology
“Grace is the voice that calls us to change and gives us the power to pull it off.” – Max Lucado
One of the most significant and potentially game-changing technologies in the groundwater realm has the comforting acronym GRACE – Gravity Recovery And Climate Experiment. It is a joint US-Germany collaboration and consists of two satellites, affectionately named Tom and Jerry, one trailing the other. The two-satellite system can accurately measure monthly changes in Earth’s gravity field that result from changes in mass at Earth’s surface, such as those that might occur due to the addition (recharge) or abstraction (pumping) of groundwater. Groundwater researchers have used GRACE data to discern monthly gains/losses in groundwater storage beneath large regions such as California’s Central Valley and the High Plains. But the spatiotemporal resolution is not very fine. And for best results, ground-truthing of GRACE data is desirable.
The GRACE satellites were launched in 2002 and designed for a five-year lifetime. NASA intends to launch a new GRACE system in 2017 that will greatly improve resolution. Groundwater management should be greatly improved when the new system goes online. Transboundary/transnational groundwater management will be greatly enhanced. With Tom and Jerry keeping an eye on things, it might be difficult to hide one’s groundwater usage from your neighbors. And GRACE is merely the proverbial tip of the iceberg.
The GRACE information discerns only changes in storage, not total storage. It provides information on the flows, not the stocks. Recall that as opposed to surface water systems that are flow-dominated, groundwater systems have relatively small flows and large stocks. But these flows are still important because they enable groundwater to: 1) be considered a renewable resource in many instances; and 2) participate in the hydrologic cycle (Margat and van der Gun, 2013, p. 9).
By 2050, US states and other jurisdictions will actually know how much groundwater they have and use. Non- and minimally-invasive geophysical techniques and satellite sensors (think GRACE, but orders of magnitude more sophisticated) will have characterized aquifer properties and parameters. ‘Smart’ tracers and sophisticated nanosensors – both stationary and moving with the groundwater – will track groundwater, its quality, use, etc., and display continuous real-time information to anyone.
Models will be truly integrated, and the days when surface water, groundwater, ecosystem, land-use, and socio-economic integration were given lip service will be viewed upon with amusement. I can hear them now: ‘What were they thinking in 2025?’
But what will we do with all these groundwater and other data? And I do mean ‘Big Data’!
Groundwater Governance, Management, and Conflict
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
– Margaret Mead
Dr. Mead could have been talking about groundwater when she uttered those words. Groundwater is the ultimate ‘local’ resource; although aquifers can underlie very large areas, their precious booty is often extracted by smallholders drilling holes in the ground. It is ‘point-of-use’ personified; there is no reliance upon some mammoth infrastructure to supply irrigation or M&I water. But groundwater is also a common-pool resource, and to manage it effectively and sustainably users must collaborate. Given groundwater’s nature it is not surprising that the trend toward groundwater governance and management is occurring at the local level -groundwater/conservancy/irrigation districts, counties, groups of irrigators, etc.
In the US, such efforts must gain the acquiescence of states especially in the water-short West, since states have the authority to allocate and manage water. Unfortunately, some states assume that this means there is no responsibility to coordinate local management efforts on a statewide basis. In California, this has resulted in groundwater mismanagement, especially in the Central Valley.
Before 2050 arrives new models of groundwater governance and management will have long since created regional and multi-state groundwater management districts, and in those regions with important surface water resources, integrated water management districts. By 2050 those districts will have been transformed into integrated resource management districts, where all resources are managed sustainably using the wealth of data alluded to earlier. Think today’s systems models, then think again – about ten times. Computer power will be unimaginable.
Conflict over water and natural resources, which occurred in the 2020s and 2030s, will be a memory.
"Prediction is very difficult, especially if it's about the future." - Niels Bohr
Dr. Bohr certainly had it right. But I think he would have agreed with me about the future of groundwater management. To paraphrase a common saying, ‘We will be living in interesting times.’ Let’s hope they are enlightened as well as interesting.
Margat, Jean, and Jac van der Gun, 2013. Groundwater around the World. Leiden, The Netherlands: CRC Press/Balkema, 348p.
Pentland, Ralph, and Chris Wood, 2013. Down the Drain. Vancouver, Canada: Greystone Books, 290p.