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Editorial Summer 2012: Sustaining our source

Globally, ground water is set to take centre stage as the United Nations names it a resource in tran


July 5, 2012
By Laura Aiken


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Figuring out how to be greener with our water is a hot topic these days.

Figuring out how to be greener with our water is a hot topic these days. Cisterns and other water recycling efforts are being explored. Governments identify fresh water sustainability as an important issue. However, what flows beneath our feet is out of sight, leaving ground water somewhat out of mind and poorly understood by the public. This must change.

Ground water is a critical global resource, indeed the largest volume of unfrozen fresh water on earth. Ground water supplies almost half the drinking water in the world and 43 per cent of irrigation globally, with India, China and the U.S. being its largest abstractors, reports the United Nations.

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The UN published Groundwater and Global Change: Trends, Opportunities and Challenges by Jac van der Gun as part of its United Nations World Water Assessment Programme this spring. The study is a mix of startling facts, sadness, hope and ultimately innovation, with all fingers pointing towards ground water as a “resource in transition.”

There are a few key reasons ground water is receiving more attention these days, van der Gun outlines. Ground water is more resilient to the effects of climate change than surface water (though saline intrusion of coastal aquifers due to rising sea levels is an ongoing concern). Ground water is a key emergency resource, as shown in the 1995 Hanshin-Awaji earthquake with a magnitude of 7.3 that killed 6,400 people and left more than one million households without water. Municipal water was down for months, but it was possible to pump water from many wells right after the quake. Some prominent aquifers in drier regions are showing long-term decline, with Yemen the most frightening among countries in water crisis. Here, aquifers are drying up so fast the capital city is facing running out of water in a decade.

Globally, the demand for food is expected to increase by 70 per cent by 2050 and energy consumption is estimated to increase by about 50 per cent between now and 2035. The global ground water abstraction rate has at least tripled in the last 50 years, says the UN.
The above facts are more than enough reason for the world to start watching its water use.

While Canada, enviable land of plenty, is certainly a far cry from Yemen, it is still a country that needs to show strong leadership. This is sometimes difficult because ground water management is a local affair but it’s important to remember that increasing ground water awareness is a national issue.

We will see more water recycling and reclamation technologies in Canada in the years to come. The Netherlands is well practised in an interesting water recycling method. Managed Aquifer Recharge (MAR), or intentionally storing water in aquifers for later use or environmental benefit, is widely practised in the Netherlands. MAR is being used more and more to help recycle water by harvesting urban storm water and waste water, then, usually, pretreating the water that’s injected into the aquifers. This is a potentially useful tool, the UN identified in its report, although not without its eco-risks.

The UN estimates that over 80 per cent of waste water worldwide is not collected or treated. As members of the ground water industry, you’re on the front lines of public discourse. You are leaders at the grass roots of water protection. What can you do in your community to help people better understand how precious a resource ground water is? There is no country that can afford to take water for granted.


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