Better understanding of ground water key for the future

Ground water reserves are becoming increasingly important in meeting the world's most pressing water-supply problems, asserts science and technology director of the National Ground Water Association.

Feb 28th, 2003


WESTERVILLE, OH, February 28, 2003 -- Ground water reserves are becoming increasingly important in meeting the world's most pressing water-supply problems, according to Dr. Stephen Ragone, science and technology director of the National Ground Water Association (NGWA).

Mismanaging this vast fresh water resource, on the other hand, could affect the entire hydrologic cycle and jeopardize surface waters and ecosystems.

"Unfortunately, ground water continues to be the 'hidden resource.' The important role it plays in sustaining life on Earth is not fully recognized," said Ragone, who is preparing for his participation in the World Water Forum, to be held March 16-23, in Kyoto, Shiga, and Osaka, Japan. The Forum is taking place during Ground Water Awareness Week, March16-22, an annual observance sponsored by the National Ground Water Association and devoted to educating people about ground water resources.

Also representing NGWA at the Forum will be Michael Campana, professor and director of the water resources program at the University of New Mexico, and chair of the Association of Ground Water Scientists and Engineers, a membership division of NGWA. Ragone and Campana will serve as speakers in the session titled "Intensive Groundwater Use: the Silent Revolution."

The session responds to a growing concern about the need to improve both the recognition of the important role ground water plays in society and the need to manage it for future generations. Campana will address ground water quality concerns. Ragone will focus on the management lessons learned from the studies of the major regional aquifer systems in the United States.

"Ground water makes up about 90 percent of the liquid global fresh water supply and it is often a water source of the highest quality for ecosystems and for human use," Ragone said. "Precipitation regularly adds to ground water supplies in many regions, and so, in that sense, it is a renewable resource. In the United States, for instance, only about 1 percent of the fresh ground water being added to aquifers each year from precipitation is being withdrawn for use. In the big picture, there is a lot of resource there to work with." That's the good news.

The bad news is that drought and overuse in areas formerly considered to be "water rich" are causing salt-water intrusion and land subsidence. Excessive ground-water withdrawals have resulted in the contamination of deeper aquifers and downgraded the usefulness of ground water resources in many areas. And not all parts of the globe have significant ground water reserves.

"In spite of the relatively large volume of ground water, it is imperative that we better understand how much of that volume we can withdraw without impairing the resource or undermining its availability to meet future needs," Ragone said. "The integration of socio-economic and hydrogeologic dimensions to the use of ground water resources will be the key to improving the careful management of this resource as a crucial source of water for humans and ecosystems." Toward this end, NGWA is forming a ground water availability interest group within its membership to study topics such as:

-- Critical data and information needed to better understand the distribution and availability of ground water resources.

-- The roles of increased demand and contamination, as well as treatment technologies, on the availability of ground water.

-- The importance of ground water as a buffer for water shortages during droughts.

-- The risks and benefits of recharging and reusing treated wastewater as a supplement to ground water resources.

-- The importance of conjunctive--or integrated--use of ground water and surface water supplies.

This kind of information will help citizens and governments decide the best ways to manage their ground water resources.

In addition to the World Water Forum, Ground Water Awareness Week coincides with several other ground water-related events:

-- NGWA hosts the conference, "Pharmaceuticals and Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals in Water," March 19-21 in Minneapolis, bringing together the top researchers from around the globe on these issues.

-- The U.N.'s World Water Day, set for March 22, features the theme "Water for the Future," and promotes "sustainable approaches to the use of water for the benefit of future generations."

-- The Groundwater Foundation's annual Children's Groundwater Festival in Grand Island, Nebraska, will be held March 18.

-- NGWA conducts a Fly-in at Washington, D.C., March 17-18, where NGWA members will meet with legislators to discuss issues such as MTBE and underground storage tanks, Superfund, and rural drinking water.

And all of these activities also fall under the umbrella of the Year of Freshwater, as the U.N. has designated 2003, and the focus of Earth Day, April 22, is "Water for Life."

For further information on ground water and Ground Water Awareness Week, visit http://www.wellowner.org/aawareness/awarenessweek.shtml and http://www.wellowner.org/agroundwater/understandinggw.shtml.

For more on NGWA conferences and activities, visit www.NGWA.org, or call (800) 551-7379. National Ground Water Association members include more than 15,500 U.S. and international ground water professionals-contractors, equipment manufacturers and suppliers, and ground water scientists and engineers. NGWA provides members, government, and the general public with the scientific knowledge and economic guidance necessary to responsibly develop, protect, and manage the world's ground water resources.


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