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« Report: 'A Desktop Suitability Assessment of Aquifer Storage & Recovery (ASR) in Washington State' | Main | TGIF! Weekly Water News Summary, 10 - 16 May 2014 »

Thursday, 15 May 2014


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Thank you for commenting, Eloise. Nice to hear from you. Hope all is well.

For the purposes of my post and TNC's graphic, I am not concerned with whether or not the groundwater pumpage depletes surface water flow. I am just looking at the stock of groundwater, and I believe TNC is being disingenuous by neglecting the vast amount of groundwater that is physically accessible and drinkable. I view 'fossil' (or non-renewable) groundwater as being accessible and, in many cases, drinkable.

I do appreciate your comments about depleting surface water flow, which is a problem in many areas, and will likely increase with decreasing surface water flows due to climate change/drought. California's San Joaquin Valley is a great example of that predicament.


Hi Michael, In the interest of not misleading in the other direction, note that in most places pumping groundwater means decreasing surface water flow. Sure, we can -- and do -- decrease groundwater storage and call that "accessible." But ultimately, except in fossil aquifers, that groundwater depletion will affect surface-water dependent ecosystems.


Dear Namesake,

Thanks for your thoughtful comments. I am going to tell your minders you've escaped again.


Dear Emily,

Thanks for taking the time to reply.

Your arguments are flawed. You arbitrarily dismiss groundwater as being inaccessible and/or undrinkable with no real proof.

What is the point of the Borjomi video? It is an isolated situation and a promotional video. Besides, the water that Borjomi uses is actually groundwater that flows at the surface as springs. So that really does not support your point that groundwater is not accessible - it's bubbling up at the surface. How more accessible can it be?

Yes, I am aware of what the USGS says. The fact that people mostly use surface water does not mean that groundwater is any less accessible or inaccessible. Simply because you don't use a source does not mean it is inaccessible. For a variety of reasons people use surface water, not always related to accessibility. Sometimes the opposite is true. Take the case of Memphis, which uses groundwater from the Memphis Sand aquifer for 100% of its water, for about 1.2 M people. This is true despite the fact that the city sits on the banks of one of the largest rivers in the world. Why should they do that? Does that mean the Mississippi is 'inaccessible'? No, of course not.

And don't forget that in the US, about 30%, on average, of streamflow is groundwater!

You should look at what the rest of what the USGS says about the amount of fresh groundwater. In my 0.4% estimate I am counting just half of the freshwater!

TNC is making a valuable statement about valuing and protecting water - I have never denied that. But by discounting groundwater, TNC is also in a sense 'encouraging' people not to take care of groundwater because it is 'inaccessible and undrinkable'. So why should I care for it? It does me no good.

There is no need to be disingenuous about groundwater and its role. Read my blog post and the references. Talk to some of your TNC people in the field who work with and value groundwater. The tell them it's inaccessible and undrinkable.

You strike me as a smart person. Don't follow the shibboleth that only surface water counts. That kind of approach was fine many years ago - not in 2014.


Emily Simmons

Of all the water on planet earth, 97.5% is salt water, which leaves only 2.5% as freshwater. But two-thirds of this (close to 68.7%) is stored at the poles as glaciers and icecaps, and another 30.1% is locked away underground. This means that only 1.2% of all freshwater is at the surface (as lakes, rivers, marshes, etc) that we can easily access. When calculated (0.012 x 0.025 = 0.0003), it shows us that of all water on our planet, only 0.03% is fresh and accessible.

Check out the USGS description of global water distribution: “Fresh surface-water sources, such as rivers and lakes, only constitute about 22,300 cubic miles (93,100 cubic kilometers), which is about 1/150th of one percent of total water. Yet, rivers and lakes are the sources of most of the water PEOPLE USE everyday.” (

Also take a look at this cool website (by the water company called Borjomi) that shows while groundwater is drinkable, it is not often easily accessible:

If we counted partial groundwater to increase the 0.03% reference, but also subtracted all the contaminated surface water, the point that TNC is making still holds: Water is a valuable and limited resource that we need to take better care of, especially as demand grows & replenishment mechanisms decline.

great conversations to be had ;)


They have the 0.03%.

And look at this: : 2.5% of all water is fresh water and : 0.036% surface water. : 0.007% based on the type of calculation ("less than 0.025% is 0.007%"). : "less than 0.007 percent of all the water in the world is easily accessible". Surely the UN can't be wrong on these numbers, can they? Did you know "it takes 1400 years for an underground water table (called an aquifer) to be replenished"? So why should we even start considering the use of groundwater? It is too old to drink and when it is finished we have to wait 1400 years to have a water table back.

Back to the image: where do you see groundwater? And why is there only a tap in the Middle East? Will that water be lost for ever to space? What's up with the moon so close that it almost hits the USA? Questions, questions...

* end of hilaric rant *

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