Oklahoma water leader to urge Congress to protect groundwater

Mike Paque, executive director of the Oklahoma-based Ground Water Protection Council (GWPC), will be part of a briefing to the Congressional Water Caucus in Washington D.C. July 9 on critical shortages in some of the underground aquifers that underlie areas of the country. The briefing by GWPC members will call for national strategies and better funding to study and protect the ground water in aquifers...

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK, July 3, 2008 -- Mike Paque, executive director of the Oklahoma-based Ground Water Protection Council (GWPC), will be part of a briefing to the Congressional Water Caucus in Washington D.C. July 9 on critical shortages in some of the underground aquifers that underlie areas of the country. The briefing by GWPC members will call for national strategies and better funding to study and protect the ground water in aquifers.

"In many areas of the country, we're running our water budgets at a deficit. Unless we can balance the budget of ground water, and recharge the aquifers as fast as we draw from them, we are risking the well-being of our citizens, our economy and our ecological systems," said Paque, executive of the Ground Water Protection Council. "We can't afford to wait until the well runs dry before we start shepherding this finite resource."

The Congressional Water Caucus is studying what members consider to be one of the most important issues facing our nation: ensuring an adequate and dependable fresh water supply for all Americans for years to come. Protecting ground water is a high priority for the panel, since ground water is the drinking water source for nearly half the U.S. population.

The GWPC is a nonprofit organization whose members consist of the state agencies responsible for protecting ground water resources. Paque and six GWPC members are traveling to Washington for presentation of the "Ground Water Report to the Nation: A Call to Action."

"To get a complete picture, we have to look at aquifer resources on a national scale by first collecting more data on the water quality and quantity in our aquifers. We can do this with a coordinated data collection and monitoring program that captures information from federal, state and local sources," said Paque. "If we can capture the information consistently and collect it in a central location, we will be taking the first step toward an accurate assessment of our national ground water resources."

SIGNS OF DISTRESS
According to GWPC, there are plenty of warning signs that ground water is in trouble. While they may present themselves as isolated incidents, they actually add up to a growing national problem with significant environmental and economic impacts.

Currently, there is no coordinated national effort to measure the extent of the threat. Because many of the vast underground reservoirs of aquifers span multiple states, the GWPC believes it is vital to monitor, analyze and steward ground water resources as a national resource. GWPC will call on the federal government to help state and local jurisdictions collect more information and develop a database on ground water resources available for drinking water, industrial use and ecosystems.

The Ogallala Aquifer, which underlies part of Oklahoma and seven other states -- South Dakota, Nebraska, Wyoming, Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, and Texas -- is an example of the need for interstate cooperation, Paque said. Underlying an area that has supported intense agricultural irrigation since WWII, the water levels in the Ogallala have dropped more than 100 feet in some areas, and the saturated thickness of the aquifer has been reduced by more than half in others. While state and local management strategies and improved irrigation efficiency have helped water levels recover in some areas, unless the aquifer is replenished at a sustainable rate, the future viability of agriculture in the region is at risk.

"The Ogallala is a perfect example of a place where we've run the water budget at a deficit, and we've had to work hard to balance that budget," Paque said. "The ground water supplies of eight states are affected by this single resource. That's a situation that we see repeated all across America."

While agriculture obviously depends on water supplies, few realize that water is also a vital part of the national energy equation. Electricity production is the second largest consumer of water resources, accounting for 39 percent of all withdrawals. In every day terms, Americans use more water each day to turn on their lights and run appliances as they do to take showers and water their lawns. Most of the energy production withdrawals are from surface water, such as lakes and streams, but the GWPC said that policy makers have not adequately considered the effects of reduced water flows on ground water recharge.

According to GWPC, the severe strain on already overtaxed water supplies needs to be factored into energy policy decisions as the nation seeks to reduce its reliance on oil. Coal power, which currently accounts for about 52% of U.S. electricity, requires 25 gallons of water to generate each kWh. Ethanol production from corn also draws down the water budget. It takes about 19 pounds of corn to produce the equivalent of one gallon of gasoline. In the High Plains region, it takes about 1,000 gallons of water to grow that19 pounds of grain, and another 400 to 500 gallons to process that amount of grain into ethanol. In 2006, the U.S. consumed roughly 5 billion gallons of biofuels, mostly ethanol, which equates to about 7.5 trillion gallons of water pumped largely from underground aquifers.

"The growing competition for water resources demands that we adopt coherent, comprehensive ground water protection strategies at the national, regional and state level that clearly articulate necessary ground water protection actions and ensures that adequate support is directed toward accomplishing those goals," Paque concluded.

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