Aquifers: The Harsh Reality of Their Importance

Let me thank George Denhard for forwarding this article to me. We dug wells together in West Africa and share similar concerns today for environmental issues. Water is always at the top of our list.

People like digestible pieces of information. Those are easiest to view, easiest to respond to with manageable emotional impact, and easiest to move away from. On any given day, in any given group and on all media outlets, you can easily identify the important issues of the day. We are coerced into passive submission by every “authority’s” view on each of these highlighted issues with seemingly too many digestible views. Too often, it is the tragic that determines an item’s newsworthiness.

Unfortunately, what media decides is good for viewer attention might not always be the most important. As an example, much of the world is very aware that something is different with global climate. The debate about the causes of climate change – and even its existence – is ongoing. We now see that these aberrations in weather and climate are neither occasional nor limited in their geographic reach.

This post is about water. More specifically, groundwater. Yes, we are becoming more aware of the growing challenges of freshwater availability and quality and community wastewater management.

Weather is the volatile element of climate that creates the conditions we experience from day-to-day. Some years, the weather just seems to be better or worse than other years. Climate controls the weather where you live. It is the average weather pattern in a place over many years. For more detail, see: What is the Difference between Weather and Climate?

Other volatility in weather can be the result of anthropogenic influences. Yes, people do contribute to environmental change. This post is about one such human behavior that has very clear implications but is not noteworthy enough to compete with other more shocking highlights.

Too many hot days in a row get attention as does a seemingly unstoppable cycle of fires that threaten super-dry, parched areas of increasingly more countries. Series of tornadoes or floods or hurricanes that rip through towns and devastate entire communities also get front-line attention.

Groundwater issues are not unique any region of the country. The most obvious impact is first noticeable in agricultural regions. Today, California is suffering the most though other regions are at high risk as well. But because of California’s importance to the economy and its importance as an agricultural producer, it has become more noteworthy.

There has been a devastating drought in California that is into its fourth year. A recent L.A.Times article summarized its severity: ‘Severe’ Drought Covers Nearly 99.8% of California.

“In May, 100% of California was experiencing “severe” drought — the third harshest on a five-level scale — but since things have leveled off, that figure has only improved to 99.8%…”

We witnessed an extended drought in Texas a few years ago and a drought in Australia that lasted eleven years recently ended!

When we think of drought, we think about too little rain or not enough rainfall to replenish surface water that is used for agriculture and recreation. Boats sitting on dry lake beds and barges grounded on shallow rivers are perfectly digestible photo opportunities. Lifestyles might be impacted by the occurrence of drought, But, in time, weather patterns always seem to shift and rains return – often in larger volumes than the land can handle and damaging floods result. Somehow, we find ways to recover and continue living in rebuilt communities.

What is happening in California has taken on a new magnitude of importance. From its Agricultural Statistics Review, 2012-2013:

“California agriculture experienced a 15 percent increase in the sales value of its products for 2011. The state’s 81,500 farms and ranches received a record $43.5 billion for their output last year, up from the $38.0 billion reached during 2010.

California continues to set the pace for the rest of the nation as the country’s largest agricultural producer and exporter. In 2011, California’s farmers and ranchers exported about 25 percent of the state’s agricultural production. In dollar terms, California’s agricultural exports reached a record-breaking $16.87 billion for 2011. Significantly, California is the nation’s sole exporter of many agricultural commodities…”

How important is water to farmers? Water always gets top priority. Agriculture is global water’s number one application. Globally irrigated farming takes more than 60 percent of the available freshwater. In many developing countries, agriculture is critical for subsistence living. In the US, agriculture is important for domestic consumption and economic, export power.

The situation is now becoming even more critical than the obvious impact that drought is having on surface water. Throughout the world, as drought conditions have persisted and population has increased, the demand for greater agricultural production has also risen to new levels. This demand has forced farmers to rely more heavily on underground water reserves. And that is the problem. Often called ancient water, these reserves cannot be easily replenished – if, at all. Once gone, they are gone forever.

“Relying on groundwater to make up for shrinking surface water supplies comes at a rising price, and this hidden water found in California’s Central Valley aquifers is the focus of what amounts to a new gold rush. Well-drillers are working overtime, and as Brian Clark Howard reported here last week, farmers and homeowners short of water now must wait in line more than a year for their new wells.”

This over reliance on groundwater is occurring around the United States and in countries around the world.

“Aquifers in the Colorado River Basin and the southern Great Plains also suffer severe depletion.”

In an earlier post, I wrote about the close relationship between energy production and freshwater: The Interdependency of Energy and Water. Freshwater is needed to produce energy and to extract fuel to produce energy. There have been a number of important discoveries of vast, underground gas reserves from the Middle Atlantic States to Wyoming. It is estimated that there is enough natural gas to power the energy needs of the US for the next two hundred years. That’s the good news. The bad news is that freshwater is needed to extract (frack) the gas from the shale formations in which it is buried.

“Scarce groundwater supplies also are being used for energy. A recent study from CERES, an organization that advocates sustainable business practices, indicated that competition for water by hydraulic fracturing—a water-intensive drilling process for oil and gas known as “fracking”—already occurs in dry regions of the United States. The February report said that more than half of all fracking wells in the U.S. are being drilled in regions experiencing drought, and that more than one-third of the wells are in regions suffering groundwater depletion.”

Further controversy with fracking is the use of chemical “cocktails” to dislodge the gas. Only those who are drilling seem to think that this process is safe and will not contaminate groundwater aquifers that reside above these underground reservoirs of gas.

As clearly stated in the title of the referenced National Geographic article: If You Think the Water Crisis Can’t Get Worse, Wait Until the Aquifers Are Drained, keep in mind that when it’s gone, the real crisis will begin.



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Legalize Dumping Onto the Great Barrier Reef

“H G Wells observed a century ago that history is a race between education and disaster. Yet all the signs are that, in terms of earth’s environment, no amount of education and information will deter seven billion Homo Sapiens from making decisions which prescribe a more barren and forlorn planet in the years to come.”

This is not about a cartel illegally dumping trash while evading police in a cat and mouse exercise. We see those kinds of negligent behaviors far too often in everyday business activity. An example of this compromise with nature was offered in a Dimidia post about extracting gas from the Marcellus Shale Formation in Pennsylvania in 2011 – Patience, Our Least Costly Option: “State charges local company for dumping wastewater and sludge. Marcellus Shale waste released throughout six-county region.” If that occurrence was a random act, it would not be worth the time to write or read about. However, the description what is being proposed and executed in Australia is mega scale!

This is all about efforts by the Australian government to “…tak[e] environment policy back to the 1950s” by changing “any measures which are socialism masquerading as environmentalism.”

A recent Foreign Policy article (August 18, 2014) was harshly critical of the Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s efforts to unlock national, natural resources. Depending on which side of the aisle you sit, his remarks – and subsequent actions – are defiantly reassuring or boldly idiotic.

“Soon after being elected in September 2013, Abbott started making plans to fulfill his campaign promise of removing some environmental protections on Tasmania’s forest and opening it to industry, specifically logging. In March, he invited loggers to Australia’s Parliament House and told them that members of the country’s Green party were “the devil” and that “the environment is meant for man.” The loggers were thrilled.”

Few countries are without sin. As the world demand for energy increases and the global quest for raw materials to fuel consumption accelerates uncontrolled, the world’s resources are being auctioned at an alarming rate to the highest bidder. This short-sighted, need satisfaction cannot continue.

International response to the Australian Prime Minister’s efforts to “remov[e] some environmental protections on Tasmania’s forest and opening it to [the logging] industry” was soundly opposed to this action. This has been designated as a World Heritage Site. In retaliation, Australia’s Prime Minister has now focused his efforts to “dump millions of tons of dredged soil from a coal-port expansion into the Great Barrier Reef.”

This report, The Green Devil: From logging Tasmanian forests to dumping in the Great Barrier Reef, Prime Minister Tony Abbott is the Australian environment’s worst nightmare – will shed new light into the World Down Under. Unfortunately, this too is not an isolated occurrence. Too many countries are willing to sell natural resources to the highest bidder. The justification is always difficult to oppose: jobs.

Perhaps the real question is: Do we care about sustaining life for future generations? – at the expense of our lifestyles today? Maybe that’s not really a question anyone wants to answer.



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Dimidia Change In Philosophy

The past few months have been a dormant period for Dimidia. It’s not that there have not been any suitable topics to discuss. It has been more a question of rethinking how this site should assign value to the issues that it has been covering since its inception.

Climate, sustainability and rising global populations will continue to be the primary focus of our awareness campaign. And, while this has been a challenging year for humanitarian issues around the globe, it has also been a watershed period for the occurrence of extreme weather phenomena as well as for polarized, attitudes about the implications of these events on the future sustainability of our planet.

I have tried to maintain issue neutrality on how these topics would be presented. I think it is always in the best interest of readers to use all available resources to raise personal awareness. By seeing both sides of issues, we can hope to filter out extreme ideologies and generate informed personal opinions of their cause and effect.

After recent conversations with my daughter who is a practicing marine mammal veterinarian, she questioned why I wouldn’t be definitive in my views and opinions about  issues such as climate change, ecosystem health and global sustainability. My only response was that I did not want  this site to become political or to be read only by readers who shared the philosophy of the site. It has become clear that neutrality is no longer an appropriate option. While objective dialogue will continue, there will be many opportunities for clear and unambiguous positions to be taken.

This site will also highlight what it considers to be “tipping points” with the issues being discussed. Common subjects we often see in the media are: have the oceans been over-fished at the expense of future generations; or has the atmospheric balance been exceeded for CO2? Ultimately, “tipping points” will have a dedicated section on this site.

I hope you will find these changes to be interesting and welcome your comments to make this site more informative.



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