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Saturday, 02 August 2014


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Bob Harrington

Michael, most intriguing post! I was glad to see your note warning against managing groundwater basins according to water budgets, because I worry that the emphasis in this post on the importance of estimating the 'stock' invites exactly that kind of water-budget-based thinking.

If a basin is being managed in an enlightened way, where the aim is to avoid negative impacts from pumping, basin objectives limiting pumping effects on groundwater dependent ecosystems or other wells will limit pumping long before total storage is a consideration.

Even if a basin is being mined and the plan is to pump as much as possible until it becomes uneconomical to continue, in deep alluvial basins, the economics of well construction and pumping costs will limit extraction long before basin storage becomes a limitation.

So, from a groundwater management point of view, the inputs, outputs, and change in storage are far more informative and useful than total storage. California DWR's Bulletin 118 includes estimates of total storage in the state's groundwater basins. Often when a pumping project is being evaluated, estimates of basin storage are put to use by interested parties to argue that a given rate of extraction is small because it is small compared to total storage. This is, of course, a fallacious argument if the objective is to avoid negative impacts. The proposed pumping might dry up springs and wells, but at least there will still be lots of water in the ground, however deep it may be! Given a choice between an estimate of change in storage (e.g., GRACE) and an estimate of total storage, in most basins, change is probably more informative.

Account Deleted

Great post. Yes, we don't know how much is left, but the trend is not good.

Elaine Hanford

"Aquifer rehabilitation" has limits. Reducing the rates of withdrawal to something less than the natural recharge rate will allow for more groundwater to stay in storage within the aquifer. However, once the aquifer has compacted to to excessive groundwater mining, it is almost impossible for recharge flow to "uncompact" it so the capacity of the aquifer is significantly reduced for the foreseeable future. Sometimes, even Nature cannot undo the damage that humans have wrought!


Thanks for the comments.

Shammy Puri

Good post, Michael - or shall I say a good rant... though well stated and justified. Agreed that GRACE does not tell the full (real) story - but if headlines draw attention - so unfortunately be it. The problem seems to be that attention grabbing headines in the media, conclude with "woe is me...there is nothing we can do about it".if we can set our action perspectives beyond the life a parlaiment / senate, (ie the aquifer time scale) it is not "woe is me..." A gradually worked up programme of aquifer rehabilitation is not beyond our ken, is it not?? Thats my five cents worth, too and I haven't even started to talk (rant) about the quality...

Elaine Hanford

Ah, yes, now that there is “high-tech” evidence, the public takes notice! But the inevitable consequence of human mining (extracting groundwater in amounts or at rates that exceed normal recharge and flow which may vary temporally) has been recognized since the seminal works of Poland that were published in the early 1960s. An excellent overview is presented in USGS Circular 1182:
Land Subsidence in the United States edited by Devin Galloway, David R. Jones, and S.E. Ingebritsen, 1999, U.S. Geological Survey Circular 1182

And more recent works emphasize that more than half of groundwater used in the US is extracted (mined) in just two areas – the High Plains and the Central Valley of California:

Groundwater depletion and sustainability of irrigation in the US High Plains and Central Valley by Bridget R. Scanlon, Claudia C. Faunt, Laurent Longuevergne, Robert C. Reedy, William M. Alley, Virginia L. McGuired, and Peter B. McMahone, doi: 10.1073/pnas.1200311109 PNAS June 12, 2012 vol. 109 no. 24 9320-9325

To quantify spatiotemporal variations in depletion at the aquifer scale, determine controls on depletion, and evaluate approaches to reduce groundwater depletion, they raised the question: “Are we running out?”

The goal obviously is “to assess more sustainable management approaches” but that is the fallacy. The goal should be to modify human behavior and wants ... to live within the limits of Nature -- not exceed them and then be surprised by the consequences. Oh, yeah, I forgot … this is all a result of global warming and humans need to fix it!!!

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