by Joseph Mercola
Water scarcity is getting worse around the world
as aquifers are drained faster than they can be
refilled. The most significant contributor to
the problem is industrial farming, due to its
heavy use of potable water for irrigation
About 80 percent of the U.S. freshwater supply
(and more than 90 percent in many Western
states) is used for agricultural purposes
One-third of the largest groundwater aquifers
are nearing depletion. In the Ogallala aquifer
in the American Midwest, the water level has
been dropping by an average of 6 feet per year,
while the natural recharge rate is less than 1
Water sources are also threatened by pollution
from large-scale monocrop farms and concentrated
animal feeding operations; corporate
agribusiness is one of the biggest threats to
"Pumped Dry: The Global Crisis of Vanishing
Groundwater," reveals the seriousness of the
situation, visiting hard-hit areas such as
Kansas and California in the U.S., and in India,
Peru and Morocco
Water scarcity is getting worse around the world as aquifers are
drained faster than they can be refilled.
The most significant
contributor to the problem is industrial farming, due to its heavy
use of potable water for irrigation.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, about 80 percent of
U.S. consumptive water (and more than 90 percent in many Western
states) is used for agricultural purposes 1 and, worldwide,
groundwater is being used up at a faster rate than it can be
Many Aquifers are
One-third of the largest groundwater aquifers are already nearing
depletion, 2 with three of the most stressed aquifers
being located in areas where political tensions run high as it is.
To give you an idea of
how quickly groundwater is being depleted, consider what's happening
in the High Plains Aquifer (also known as the
Ogallala) in the
Here, the water level has been dropping by an average of 6 feet per
year, while the natural recharge rate is 1 inch or less. 4
Once this aquifer is
depleted - and many wells have already run dry in the area - 20
percent of the U.S. corn, wheat and cattle output will be lost due
to lack of irrigation and water for the animals.
According to Jay Famiglietti, a senior water scientist at
NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the majority of our global
sustainability tipping points," 5
...which means it's only
a matter of time until we run out of fresh water.
Threatens Remaining Freshwater Supplies
Precious water sources are also threatened by pollution from
large-scale monocrop farms and concentrated animal feeding
According to a report
7 by Environment America, corporate agribusiness is,
of the biggest threats to America's waterways."
Tyson Foods Inc. was
deemed among the worst, releasing 104.4 million pounds of toxic
pollutants into waterways between 2010 and 2014.
Researchers have warned that many lakes around the world are now at
grave risk from fertilizer runoff that feeds harmful blue-green
algae (cyanobacteria), 8,9 and once established, it's far
more difficult to get rid of than previously thought.
according to the authors of this study, is better land-use
management that addresses fertilizer runoff. Dramatic reductions in
fertilizer use are also recommended.
Indeed, the long-term solution to many of our water quality and
water scarcity issues is to phase out the use of,
...and to grow crops and raise
food animals in such a way that the farm contributes to the overall
health and balance of the environment rather than polluting it and
creating a dysfunctional ecosystem.
"Pumped Dry - The Global
Crisis of Vanishing Groundwater" (far below
video), a documentary by USA Today
and The Desert Sun, shows how people are being rudely
awakened to the problem as more and more wells are now running dry.
As reported by USA
disappearing beneath cornfields in Kansas, rice paddies in
India, asparagus farms in Peru and orange groves in Morocco.
As these critical
water reserves are pumped beyond their limits, the threats are
mounting for people who depend on aquifers to supply
agriculture, sustain economies and provide drinking water.
In some areas, fields have already turned to dust and farmers
Climate change is
projected to increase the stresses on water supplies, and heated
disputes are erupting in places where those with deep wells can
keep pumping and leave others with dry wells…
These are stories about people on four continents confronting
questions of how to safeguard their aquifers for the future -
and in some cases, how to cope as the water runs out."
twin satellites GRACE, which stands for
Gravity Recovery and
Climate Experiment, are able to measure water content on Earth by
observing changes in the planet's gravitational pull.
Data from these
satellites reveal groundwater depletion is occurring all-around the
One of these places is India, which has been edging toward a water
crisis for decades. The seriousness of the situation is particularly
evident in the
northern state of Punjab.
The areas' five rivers
supply water to a large number of irrigation canals.
Still, this surface water accounts for just 27 percent of the areas
irrigation needs. The remaining 73 percent comes from groundwater.
As a result, the groundwater table is rapidly declining, as water is
being pumped out at a faster rate than it is replenished.
The decline began in
1979, and has increased exponentially in the decades since.
An elderly Indian woman recounts being able to hit water simply by
digging a foot down into the earth when she was a child.
Today, some areas have no
groundwater available at all. In some cases, farmers have dug up to
60 bore wells on their property without hitting a single drop. In
others, farmers have drilled to a depth of 900 feet without hitting
Many farmers that do have functioning wells are forced to deepen
them every year, in order to maintain irrigation of their fields.
Rice, which is typically the most profitable crop for Indian farmers
to grow, also requires more water than other traditional crops,
creating a delicate Catch-22.
Lack of water has been the death knell for many Indian farmers, who
commit suicide when their bore wells stop yielding water.
For without water,
nothing can grow and, without a viable crop, they have no income and
no way to repay their debts and sustain their families.
According to statistics from the Indian National Crime Records
Bureau, an average of 32 farmers or farm-workers commit suicide
each day. And, while failing wells aren't the only factor
contributing to this tragic trend, it's an important one.
state of Maharashtra
has the highest farmer suicide rate in the nation, and here, the
lack of water is so severe that in many areas rain is the only
source of water available for farmers' crops.
The filmmakers also visit Kansas, an area of the U.S. where farmers
are struggling to keep going due to declining groundwater.
As noted by Jay
Garetson, a farmer in Sublette, Kansas,
"Water is the
limiting factor in life in general, but southwest Kansas
GRACE satellite data
confirms well data from the U.S. Geological Survey, showing a
dramatic decline in groundwater in the high plains Ogallala aquifer,
the largest freshwater aquifer in the Western Hemisphere.
In the 1960s, farmers
began drilling wells for field irrigation. Since then, the water
level has steadily declined.
As mentioned earlier, the groundwater in this enormously important
aquifer has been dropping by an average of 6 feet per year.
Meanwhile, the annual recharge rate is thought to be around half an
inch, but no more than 1 inch. 11
As noted by one Kansas
"We're now nearing
the bottom of that pool of water that in the 50s and 60s we
thought was inexhaustible."
Indeed, in some areas of
the state, the groundwater has already dried up entirely.
Needless to say, in areas
where there is no groundwater, you cannot grow food, and once the
Ogallala dries up, the heartland of the United States, where a
majority of the nation's food is produced, will become a barren
The next stop is Morocco, where many farms have had to shut down
operations due to there being no water left.
Here, as in India and the
U.S., lack of regulation of groundwater resources has led to
overexploitation. According to Laila Mandi with Cadi Ayyad
University, the groundwater level in Morocco is decreasing by nearly
10 feet per year.
Souss-Massa, a heavy
agricultural area thanks to favorable climate, is among the hardest
As noted by one farmer in
the area who has had to close down his farm,
"The people would
like to work, but the water is gone."
Desert Farmers Face Extinction
In Peru, at the foothills of the Andes mountains, a desert farming
district known as Ica boasts a lucrative farming region.
According to the former
mayor of Ica, Luis Oliva Fernandez Prada,
"Ica is destined to
be the California of Peru," thanks to its accelerated economic
growth. "This place has generated jobs, money for the country,
food for the world," Prada says.
But in doing so, they're
also draining a resource without which they cannot even sustain
their own lives.
Most of the food grown here is destined for export, and the water
for irrigation is pumped from wells. Here too, the water crisis is
rearing its ugly head.
Farmer Memerto Cuya
Villagaray says the lack of water,
"is going to make us
disappear… Without water, what are we going to do?"
According to Maria
Teresa Ore, a professor at Pontifical Catholic University of
Peru, they used to be able to hit water at a depth of 3 meters (less
than 10 feet). Today, there's no water even at a depth of 300 meters
People are so desperate
they keep drilling new wells even though it's prohibited.
Jorge Aparcana with the Ica Human Rights Commission
comments on the situation, saying,
"We're not only
destroying the future of the coming generations, but we're also
depleting our resources."
Historically, Ica has
been a producer of dry-zone crops, but in more recent years, that's
Driven by profit
potential, farmers began growing asparagus, becoming a leading
global producer of asparagus.
"It's a crime to
plant asparagus in a desert, because it's a very water-intensive
crop," Aparcana says.
David Bayer, an
Ica resident and water activist agrees, saying the growing of
asparagus should have been outlawed before it began to protect
"Having a crop that
demands so much water, although it's true that it's very
profitable, the environmental and social costs are not
"What worries me is not only the depletion of our natural
resources, which we're already seeing," Aparcana says, "but also
the deep social exclusion we're experiencing."
from Chile, Lima and other areas, have moved into Ica,
progressively pushing out small farmers and buying up wells, which
they then improve and put behind locked fences, preventing anyone
from accessing the water.
And, since these improved
wells are kept running around the clock, they decrease the flow to
other, smaller and less efficient wells nearby.
A few years ago, residents began receiving municipal tap water, but
the water is only available for about an hour, twice or three times
a week. This is the only drinking water they have.
According to Bayer, one of the owners of a large agribusiness told
"I fear that when
people don't have drinking water, they will come onto my farm
and burn it down."
Aparcana also fears the
lack of water is a breeding ground for violence, both criminal and
Headed Toward Another Dustbowl Disaster?
Wells are also running dry in California.
Many blame the California
water crisis on vineyards that pump groundwater for their grapes.
One small farmer says her well went dry a month after a nearby
vineyard put down a new 1,000-foot well.
According to "Pumped Dry," the water table in California has dropped
about 70 feet in the past 10 years; half of that being in the last
three to four years alone.
Valley, the amount of water being drained from underground is
actually causing the land to sink, which further inhibits the
ground's ability to retain water.
In Porterville, California, a majority of homeowners rely on well
water - and all the wells are drying up.
board representative and media officer of
Tulare County, says the
Fifty-five to 60 percent
of all dry wells in California are in Tulare County, and a majority
of those dry wells are located in Porterville.
What Are the
The common theme throughout this investigation is that there's a
"free-for-all" mentality at play where the one who can afford to
drill the deepest well wins in the short term, but everyone loses in
the long term...
According to the experts interviewed in "Pumped Dry," groundwater as
a resource needs proper governance and management, including,
We also need to make a collective change in how we use water, and
how we grow crops.
Selecting the most
appropriate crops for any given area would result in more efficient
water usage, and reduce the amount farmers would have to draw from
In short, we need to grow
food with less water...
The good news is we already know how to do that, and it's called
regenerative agriculture. Unfortunately, this was not addressed in
this film, but it's been well-proven that regenerative agriculture
biodynamic farming is far more water efficient than industrial
To learn how:
The Global Crisis of