World Water Day: Making the Invisible Visible

✓ Taking a nice hot shower to start your morning off right. 

✓ Enjoying a fresh salad made from veggies grown locally. 

✓ Jumping into a lake on a hot summer day. 

What do all of these refreshing, wholesome activities have in common? They're all rewards of the hardworking water system that keeps our world thriving, of course!

It's safe to say that we get to regularly enjoy the perks of water (namely, staying alive, healthy and clean) without thinking much about the finite resource that makes it all possible. But in recognition of World Water Day, we’re taking a moment to celebrate all that water does for us while drawing awareness to the issues surrounding water in 2022. This year, the UN has highlighted one part of the water system that often goes unnoticed: groundwater.

What is groundwater?

Woman holding water in hands in river

Groundwater lives underground in the little nooks and crannies of our planet’s aquifers. It feeds our springs, rivers, lakes, ponds and wetlands, and is replenished by rain and snow seeping into the ground. We rely on this vital resource for nearly all of our liquid freshwater: our drinking water, our sanitation, our agriculture and our industry. It also keeps our ecosystems alive and happy.

In essence, life on Earth wouldn’t be possible without groundwater, and it is quite literally a prerequisite to the future of human existence on Earth (read: surviving climate change and overpopulation). NBD.

Groundwater is invisible, but its impact is visible everywhere. Out of sight, under our feet, groundwater is a hidden treasure that enriches our lives. 

What’s the problem? 

It’s vital. 

As in, it supplies us with nearly half of all drinking water and our food systems depend on it. Groundwater depletion is largely driven by irrigated agriculture, which uses 43% of the global supply of groundwater to satisfy needs for basic global food security. Aquifers are vital water sources to dry, arid regions that undergo long periods without rainfall. 

It’s finite.

When aquifers are continuously drained of groundwater faster than rain and snow can replenish them, they face a dried-up, depleted existence. Like any other finite resource, groundwater has the potential to be exploited and overused very easily, which is currently the case with our agricultural industry’s groundwater consumption habits. Add in the destabilizing conditions caused by climate change and rapid urbanization and we’ve got a very delicate situation on our hands. As the population grows and new global consumption patterns come into play, demand for groundwater is rapidly growing. 

It’s polluted. 

Highly permeable by nature, polluted groundwater sources can cause huge risks for the surrounding environment and restoring the aquifers to a usable status is no simple task. When it does become tainted, places without reliable access to clean water are impacted most severely, as we know groundwater can often be the only reliable option for clean drinking water. Clean water is a basic human right, despite the fact that over 2 billion people currently lack access. This is often a result of poor agricultural practices that start at the surface and seep underground.  

It’s shared. 

Underwater aquifers obviously don’t fall neatly within city, county, state, or country borders, making it more difficult for the government to regulate and assign ownership. According to International Shared Aquifer Resources Management (ISARM), 468 transboundary aquifers exist worldwide, though only a handful are governed by international agreements. 75% of the world’s largest aquifers under stress are transboundary, which has the potential to lead to intergovernmental problems down the road as resources become more scarce. 

It’s invisible.

As a resource that exists beneath the surface of our realities and within the gaps of our knowledge, it’s just as easy to lose sight of groundwater itself as it is the local actors who are consuming it with little oversight. It’s largely left unprotected by inefficient governance, which leaves it up to us as individuals and as a community to make good decisions about how we consume water and interact with the land around us – which *shockingly* doesn’t always lead us where we need it to. Many water-scarce countries who have allowed groundwater pumping for irrigated agriculture have created a reliance on this weakening and declining water supply, heightening the consequences even more. 

Giving groundwater a chance

With everything going on in the world right now, tackling a global issue as expansive as groundwater protection can feel pretty out of reach. Thankfully, organizations like charity: water, Living Water International and Thirst Project are working hard to protect the right to access clean water, including groundwater. Donating money or time volunteering to organizations like these could be a great way to take action with this knowledge and give back to groundwater. 

Groundwater may be out of sight, but it must not be out of mind.

We can also have a substantial impact on the quality of groundwater in our every day lives! As we hydrate, shower, eat, and move through our lives, water is working hard for us whether we realize it or not: 

Here are a few other things we can do:
  • Follow leading organizations like @un_water, @living_water, @water and @thirstproject on social media to stay informed on the global systems working to improve water and sanitation standards. 
  • Understand how your individual behaviors could trickle down to contribute to the pressure on groundwater, from climate change to resource consumption. Ex: reducing our individual contributions to food waste problems to ease the strain of the agriculture industry, which uses a massive amount of water extracted from aquifers for irrigation. 
  • Learn how the corporations you spend your money with are holding themselves accountable for their massive contributions to the worlds's water crisis.
  • Get out there and clean up a local watering hole with some friends!


    March 22, 2022 — Whitney Adrian