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September 2023

Ground Water Aquifer Depletion Becoming a Significant National and State Issue

by Scott Brown

MWA e – Newsletter Editor

The freshwater that lies beneath the earth’s surface that is often referred to as groundwater has served as a vital life sustaining resource on earth for millions of years. In the modern era, rural communities, businesses, farms, and private residences located a long distance from lakes, rivers, streams, or urban water systems depend almost entirely upon groundwater wells for fresh potable water. In the past one hundred years, however, ground water consumption in many areas of the United States, and in particular areas that support intensive agricultural or mining operations, has surged as progressively more powerful and effective technological means are used to extract and consume greater volumes of groundwater. Simply put, in many areas of the United States groundwater is being extracted at rates that mother nature in all her glory is not capable of restoring. It is important to note that the United States Geological Survey reports that approximately 10% of the ground water aquifers in the United States fell to their lowest level on record last year.

In a recent interview with the New York Times, Don Cline, United States Geological Survey associate director for water resources indicated that “there’s almost no way to convey how important this issue is…” In Kansas, for example, ground water aquifer depletion has already resulted in a significant reduction in the amount of corn that an average acre is capable of producing. In Michigan’s Ann Arbor township, groundwater wells serving homes, businesses, and farms are failing at a steadily increasing rate due to the extraordinarily high volumes of groundwater that are being extracted by a local aggregate mining operation. Causing local groundwater aquifers to drop to record low levels, the fact that the mining operation is paying to lower, and/or to otherwise restore the groundwater wells of those negatively affected by their operation is of little or no consolation to residents, business leaders, and state and local government officials who view progressively depleted groundwater aquifers as a significant challenge.

Local governments, and/or planning commissions charged with reviewing and/or approving permit applications from those proposing to conduct aggregate mining or other high volume groundwater consumption operations in a particular area need to be acutely aware of the fact that such operations are capable of having a significant influence on local groundwater aquifer levels. Local officials charged with making decisions regarding large scale groundwater extractions would be well advised to conduct a hydrologic study of the area under consideration before approving high volume groundwater withdrawals. Local officials charged with making groundwater extraction related decisions in areas hosting inland lakes that rely on ground water as their primary water source should also be mindful that lower ground water aquifer levels may also equate to lower inland lake levels.