Many people are surprised to learn just how important groundwater — the water we pump from wells — is to our daily lives. About half of the world's people rely on groundwater for their drinking water. Almost everyone in a rural area does. It provides more than 40 percent of the water used to irrigate crops, making it essential to global food security.

Groundwater also is integral to the environment. During dry spells, rivers keep flowing because of groundwater. Many plants and animals depend on groundwater discharge to springs, lakes, and wetlands for their survival.

Everyone’s responsibility

Typically, groundwater problems are slow to develop, slow to be detected and take a long time to fix — if it’s even possible. Ben Franklin’s old adage “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” definitely applies to groundwater.

Safeguarding groundwater has become a global challenge, involving choices societies make about everything from agriculture to energy development. Within this broader context, developing sustainable strategies is best left to informed stakeholders at the local level.

“Public education is particularly important to the 34 million Americans on privately-owned wells...”

A steady drip of conservation

Protecting this critical resource also involves individual choices to conserve our daily use of water and responsibly handle household chemicals, fertilizers and pesticides that have the potential to leach into groundwater. A critical starting point is public education to increase awareness about this out-of-sight and, too often, out-of-mind resource.

Groundwater becomes even more crucial in the face of more frequent and intense droughts predicted by climate change scenarios. A promising approach for meeting these challenges is to store surplus surface water and recycled water underground. Such “managed aquifer recharge” comes with fewer environmental consequences and much less water loss to evaporation than surface-water reservoirs.

In the United States, public education is particularly important to the 34 million Americans on privately-owned wells, who are responsible for getting regular well inspections and maintenance, testing the water, and addressing water quality problems.