Above: Trends in groundwater levels observed between 1949 and 2009. Negative (red/orange) indicates decline in groundwater level, while positive (blue) indicates a rise in groundwater level.
Source: Columbia Water Center.
My list of concerns about what’s wrong with farm policies here in the U.S. is fairly long, but if I had to name the two that I think are the most important, those two would be better protection of our soil and our groundwater. At present, there are not policies in place which are guarding either of these adequately, and this is short-sighted.
The California drought story has been featured prominently in the news, and included under that topic, we have seen a few articles about the unsustainable reliance upon groundwater for farming there, which is an under-reported story that has grave implications.
Which is why this new U.S. groundwater study out of Columbia University is important.
From the study’s summary:
There are farmers in dryland farming regions of Nebraska and Iowa and other Midwestern states who have recently added wells to their farms following the drought of 2012, to help capitalize on strong commodity prices at the time. There is an Iowa community that has seen its groundwater level drop because of an ethanol plant coming in and using groundwater for its industrial water needs. Many communities in Minnesota are facing the problem of nitrate-polluted water in their wells, so they have to purchase and transport clean water for drinking. In California’s agricultural region of Paso Robles, vineyard owners, who use 67 percent of the basin’s groundwater, sued others to preserve their unrestricted access to their rapidly depleting groundwater.
The stories about the use of groundwater go on and on.
Forty percent of our population gets its drinking water from underground aquifers, and groundwater is used for 60 percent of agricultural irrigation, here in the U.S.
Regarding groundwater use, we should remind ourselves of the Native American concept… that we need to make decisions based upon whether or not they will benefit seven generations into the future, even if making those decisions requires having skin as thick as the bark of a pine tree.