More Than Half of Pumped Watersheds Could Pass a Critical Ecological Threshold by 2050

An important new study released in October has found that 15 to 21 percent of the planet’s natural waterways tapped by humans are emptying out due to excessive groundwater pumping.
Excessive pumping from groundwater that feeds rivers, like the Ganges River (shown), is harming river ecosystems around the world.
Photo credit: Flickr CC2.0 Generic
Many of the rivers and streams affected are located in drier regions, such as parts of Mexico and northern India, where groundwater is used for irrigation. This leaves less groundwater for rivers, streams and natural waterways. Much of the groundwater being used worldwide (about 70%) is pumped for agricultural use.

The study suggests that if groundwater pumping continues at current rates, 42 to 79 percent of the world’s pumped watersheds will have crossed an ecological tipping point by 2050.

We have already witnessed the ramifications of excessive groundwater pumping in California’s San Joaquin Valley.To date, swaths of the Valley have sunk 28 feet — nearly three stories — since the 1920s, and some areas have dropped almost 3 feet since 2016. Research suggests that San Joaquin’s groundwater aquifers, which supply drinking water for 1 million people and irrigation for crops in some of the nation’s richest farmland, are contaminated by arsenic.

There is also evidence that groundwater pumping has shifted water from aquifers to the ocean and may be contributing in a small but not insignificant way to sea level rise.This happens when water pumped to irrigate crops finds its way into rivers and other pathways leading to the world’s oceans.

The reason for excessive pumping of ground water – and so many other environmental problems – is the growing human population, a fact that most often remains unmentioned in reports about any particular problem.

The environmental impact of a growing human population is also a subject that governments are unwilling to address, so it’s up to all of us to raise the issue with elected MPs and local representatives and to promote awareness in other ways, including through social media. To that end we would ask that you consider sharing or forwarding our work to bring attention to the population “elephant in the room!”