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USask water expert joins global call to action to protect ground water sources

December 9, 2019  By Ground Water Canada

Photo courtesy Mark Ferguson, Global Institute for Water Security

Saskatoon – A group of international scientists and practitioners including University of Saskatchewan researcher Jay Famiglietti say we are not doing enough to protect and manage global ground water resources, which will have long-term effects on the planet’s drinking water, food production, and adaptation to a rapidly changing climate.  

The Global Groundwater Statement – A Call  to Action cites recent scientific breakthroughs that have highlighted the regional and international importance of the issue as well as global connections and threats to ground water, which makes up 99 per cent of the Earth’s liquid freshwater.

The call goes on to say how ground water is the drinking water source for more than two billion people worldwide and provides more than 40 per cent of the water for irrigated agriculture, with nearly 1.7 billion people living above aquifers (geological formations that provide ground water) that are stressed by overuse.


“We are seeing a picture that is incredibly worrisome,” said Famiglietti, executive director of the Global Institute for Water Security and Canada 150 Research Chair in Hydrology and Remote Sensing at USask, in a news release. “Over half of the world’s major aquifers are past sustainability tipping points and are being rapidly depleted to provide water for irrigated agriculture. Not only is our water security at great risk, but our food security as well.”

The call comes on the eve of United Nations Climate Change Conference in Madrid (COP 25) and the beginning of the Decade of Action on the UN Agenda 2030, as well as the fall meeting of the American Geophysical Union, the world’s largest gathering of Earth scientists.

More than 700 scientists, practitioners and experts from more than 80 countries around the world have signed the Global Groundwater Statement –  A Call to Action already, and many scientists are hoping that number will grow as the situation becomes more urgent.

“Ground water is the forgotten secret that we have under our feet, yet it is critical to our lives,” said Tom Gleeson, associate professor at the University of Victoria, who helped lead the push to draft the global statement. “Protecting and managing ground water is critical for the future of food production, adapting to a changing climate, and for sustainable development of communities and building better societies world-wide. We need to encourage and support international dialogue and strategies on ground water solutions.”Famiglietti, who led a 15-year satellite-based ground water study as the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s senior water scientist, and whose research has impacted ground water management and policy from California to India, stressed the urgency of the situation that is echoed in the call.

“Ground water does not know political boundaries as many of the world’s largest aquifers are transboundary. Ground water issues are global in nature and require global attention,” Famiglietti said. “It is time for scientists like myself to take action. Society needs our research more than ever, and that includes far more engagement and co-developed projects with stakeholders, water managers, decision makers and elected officials. Business as usual in the ivory towers of academia is not going to help sustain the world’s ground water resources.”

The Global Groundwater Statement –  A Call to Action outlines three key items to address the situation:

1. Put the spotlight on global ground water sustainability by completing a UN World Water Development Report on the state, trends and prospects of global ground water sustainability for the 2022 UN World Water Day dedicated to ground water and recognizing the global importance of ground water to the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

2. Manage and govern ground water sustainably from local to global scales by applying sustainability guiding principles by 2030.

3. Invest in ground water governance and management by implementing ground water sustainability plans for stressed aquifers by 2030.

Learn more about the global ground water statement or add your name as a signatory.


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