• Why Is Groundwater Important?

Environmental Laboratory

Why Is Groundwater Important?

Jun 27 2019

Water is present around us all the time. Whether falling from the sky in the form of rainfall or other precipitation, running down our mountains and valleys via rivers and streams or creating almighty waves in our seas and oceans, water is everywhere. However, there’s one underpublicized but incredibly important form of water that’s always under our feet - groundwater.

When rain falls from the sky, some of it ends up in lakes and rivers, some flows out to the sea, but most of it sinks into the soil, where it is absorbed like a sponge. Plants and trees then suck up some of this water and return it to the air via transpiration, but much more seeps down into the rock beneath, permeating the fine holes in geological formations known as aquifers. This is groundwater.

Why is groundwater important?

Although it remains out of sight and largely out of mind, groundwater is one of the most important sources of H20 that we have. This is especially true for locations with dry and arid climates which don’t enjoy much rainfall, since groundwater is the only supply of water they can access. Given that water is necessary for sustaining human life, as well as many other important activities like washing, cleaning, agriculture, irrigation and industry, groundwater is an incredibly important aspect of our water supply.

According to statistics provided by the United States Geological Survey, groundwater is actually often more important than surface water. In urban locations, groundwater makes up around a third of the water that utility companies supply to homes and businesses. In rural areas which don’t have access to the water distributed to urban companies, it makes up 90% of their drinking water supplies. It also accounts for 98% of domestic water use, 63% of mining water use and 60% of livestock water use. Clearly, it’s an important consideration.

Threats to groundwater

One of the most high-profile threats to our groundwater supplies is a relatively recent one: fracking. Hydraulic fracturing, otherwise known as fracking, is the process of extracting shale oil and gas from rock formations underground for use as a source of energy. Part of this process involves injecting chemicals into the rock to break it apart and release the fossil fuels stored therein. Concerned parties have argued that doing so could jeopardise nearby water supplies, if the chemicals themselves or the methane contained within the rock leach into those supplies.

The fracking industry has gone to great pains to insist that its methods are completely safe and do not endanger groundwater, with continual monitoring equipment being introduced to verify the safety of water supplies at all times. For more information on this technology and how it works, please see the informative e-learning session Real-time Aquifer Monitoring for Shale Oil and Gas Extraction.

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