53% of groundwater aquifers are losing water

A resource invisible most of the time to Michigan residents may be coveted more and more by other regions of the U.S. 

It’s called groundwater.  Found underground in cracks and spaces in soil, sand and rock, groundwater is vital to human health and the environment. And while Michigan has an abundance of groundwater, significant regions of the United States are using theirs up at alarming rates. A January article in Nature magazine reports that more than half of the groundwater aquifers in the United States (53 percent) are losing water.

“Groundwater levels are declining rapidly in many areas,” said the article’s co-author Scott Jasechko of the University of California, Santa Barbara. “And what’s worse, the rate of groundwater decline is accelerating in a large portion of areas.”  

The primary culprits in the worsening state of US groundwater are agricultural withdrawals and population growth. Coupled with climate change, current uses of groundwater are expected to overtax it, creating local or regional shortages and potential emergencies.

The quantity of Michigan’s groundwater is not currently at risk. There is enough groundwater to supply the 45% of the state’s residents that rely on it for drinking water. The volume of groundwater under the U.S. side of the Great Lakes basin is roughly equal to the volume of Lake Huron. And approximately 40% of the volume of the Great Lake originates as groundwater.

But could parched states of the South and West make a bid for some of Michigan’s groundwater? The Great Lakes Compact prohibits large-scale water diversions through pipelines, vessels and trains, but political pressure will likely grow to share our groundwater abundance.

Plummeting groundwater levels elsewhere make it all the more important for Michigan and the other Great Lakes states to use water sustainably – and to stop creating “dead zones” where contamination makes groundwater unfit for use.

Instead of sending groundwater elsewhere, Michigan will likely invite residents and businesses to relocate and use groundwater here. But that can happen only if Michigan improves its groundwater stewardship (PDF).

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