Monday, May 20, 2013

A Minor Musing: Aquifers Running On Empty

David Frum points to this New York Times article discussing the depletion of the High Plains Aquifer. The Times describes the aquifer as
a waterlogged jumble of sand, clay and gravel that begins beneath Wyoming and South Dakota and stretches clear to the Texas Panhandle. The aquifer’s northern reaches still hold enough water in many places to last hundreds of years. But as one heads south, it is increasingly tapped out, drained by ever more intensive farming and, lately, by drought.
Frum concludes,
Finding ways to maximize calorie production while minimizing the need for irrigation will be the central challenge for industrial agriculture in the 21st century. Groundwater irrigation has made area farmers rich, and kept countless towns alive across the high plains. For many of these little towns, that era is rapidly coming to an end.
And like so many other tragedies of the commons, the declines of these great aquifers passed largely unnoticed until it was far too late to reverse. Sad. 
The Times may believe that this region has enough to last "hundreds of years," but it is prudent to look at places that are experiencing water shortages, learn from their mistakes, and do everything possible to prevent repeating them.

This article is also a reminder that the 20th Century's resource struggle was about oil, but many believe the 21st Century's resource struggle may well be about water.

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