On March 22, 2017 Hydrologist and Senior Water Scientist at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Dr. Jay Famiglietti, gave a lecture on the growing concern around freshwater security and communicating concerns around it.
“It can be a challenge to explain why we do what we do and [I] think we should embrace that,” said Dr. Jay Famiglietti, “[Freshwater security] is a challenge right now, and it’s going to increasingly become more of a challenge.”
Famiglietti defined water security as a region’s capability and infrastructure to provide sustainable supplies of potable freshwater both now and into the future. Unfortunately, the majority of the talk centered around how our freshwater supply is in danger of becoming extinct. Using data recorded by the Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) satellite, it has been discovered that wet areas are getting wetter and dry regions are getting drier.
GRACE has been a satellite for 15 years and has discovered that groundwater has been depleted by 300 trillion gallons in mid-latitude groundwater supplies. The most common example of the dry regions getting drier is the central region in California which is now just recovering from a devastating drought. In fact, the GRACE data is showing that this region has lost 100 cubic kilometers of cumulative groundwater.
This significant loss of ground water has had noticeable difference on the landscape. In some areas of California the land elevation has gone down by 1.5 feet per year since 1970. This is called land subsidence, which is like deflation of a tire. Overtime as the groundwater gets depleted, the land elevation deflates.
“What are the implications? I think we’re in seriously bad shape,” says Famiglietti. “I don’t think we’re really ready in our society, and certainly not in the United States for the water issues and food issues and the energy issues, the implications are very very profound.”
Famiglietti talked about just how important groundwater is to society. This form of water is the critical element of the national and international water supplies use for human consumption and to help fuel the agriculture for food production. The shift in water supply is going to create a class system of water, where certain regions will have none of the water and other regions will have all of the water. This can lead to significant health problems, political struggles and violence conflicts and other geopolitical responses.
“The wells are going drier by the thousands and of course it’s the poor people that can’t afford to dig the 2500 foot well because it costs 250,000 dollars,” says Famiglietti. “So you’re talking about the farm workers who are working on the farms and the farms that they’re working on are responsible for them not having water.”
Famiglietti hopes to get across that this is a significant issue that needs to be addressed. Students and scientists need to be engaging in more conversations around this conflict to increase the awareness surrounding groundwater scarcity. He believes that if people can truly understand the sources of their water supply, then they can appreciate those sources and how they changing.
However, Famiglietti is not hopeful for the future. He argues that all the new solutions to solve this problem like water recycling and desalinating salt water are useful solutions for cities, but cannot be used to help the agricultural industry, which is already using up all of the water supply. He argues that most of the regions that are getting drier are major agricultural centers for the world, so finding a solution when a profitable industry is thriving is unsustainable.
“It’s not in anyone’s nice interest to be a nice person,” says Famiglietti, “It only takes one person to say okay screw you guys and keep pumping. Then everyone will end up suffering.”