Our planet’s water is both created and destroyed by natural chemical reactions that occur in both plants and animals in order to sustain life here on Earth. The water we use changes phases (vapor, liquid, solid) through what is known as the water cycle. Only 3% of the planet’s water is fresh water, which is what we use as drinking water.
Unfortunately, this water can become contaminated — especially groundwater. What is groundwater? This is the water that lies below the Earth’s surface and is not visible; it must be tapped into in order to access. Groundwater pollution mostly occurs due to human activity such as farming, industrial production, and the creation of nuclear waste. This groundwater contamination does not go away either. Over 80% of hazardous waste sites have adversely impacted the quality of nearby groundwater.
Water Cycle: The water cycle is used to describe how water flows through an ecosystem. First, surface water (lakes, streams, oceans, etc.) is pulled upwards into the air in a process known as evaporation.
Once the evaporated water reaches a certain atmospheric height, it condenses into rain or snow, causing precipitation. The precipitation then comes back down to the surface and eventually finds it’s way back into streams and oceans only to be pulled up again. Yet some water finds it’s way into the ground.
Groundwater Depletion: Groundwater depletion has become a serious issue as of late. An estimated 400 billion gallons of water are used in the U.S. every day, and most of this is not being replenished by the water cycle.
Groundwater is difficult to find and predict because it depends on what type of materials it is moving through and what materials it is carrying with it as it travels. Groundwater depletion occurs when the water is being drawn up at a faster rate than it is being replaced. Think of a bank account that you keep withdrawing from but not depositing into.
For areas that suffer groundwater depletion, such as the southwestern states, people must bore deeper into the Earth’s surface to reach groundwater that could be several hundred feet below.
Why Groundwater is Important: Both trees and plants rely heavily on groundwater because most species cannot survive growing in a pond or lake. If they can’t reach the water with their roots then they will die. If the plants and trees die, this could end up disrupting an entire ecosystem.
People also rely on groundwater for drinking water. Nearly 95% of the nation’s available freshwater is groundwater, and if this is difficult to access, there will be a water shortage.
How To Fix It: Using a better water treatment process, we may be able to purify freshwater and rid it of contaminants in order for it to be released back into the water cycle for reuse. Research more like this.