It's Not Just California

Photo: Bloomberg/Getty Images.
NASA has bad news for anyone who heard California only has one year's worth of water stored up and hoped, "Maybe it's only California." According to two studies released on Tuesday, more than half of the world's aquifers are being depleted faster than they can be restored, and those aquifers may be smaller than we thought they were.

According to data from NASA, we're taking an unsustainable amount of water from 21 of the world's 37 biggest aquifers. As we use this water for farming, drinking, and industrial purposes, we're depleting resources that developed over thousands of years, and there's no way to artificially speed up that process. As NASA senior water scientist Jay Famiglietti, PhD, told The Washington Post, “The situation is quite critical.”

If you recognize Dr. Famiglietti's name, it's because he's the scientist that wrote the Los Angeles Times op-ed that sounded the alarm on California's miniscule water reserves.

It's not surprising that one of the aquifers being depleted at the worst rate is in California's Central Valley, where most of the state's agriculture is based. Farmers have agreed to slash their water use, but it may be too late. It's difficult to know; the second study, also published Tuesday, found that there's a lot less certainty about how much water we actually have stored — and its unlikely that we've been underestimating that figure.

While most of the world still relies on water from sources on the earth's surface, some 2 billion people rely on groundwater, according to Al Jazeera America. And, even as state officials implement rationing and stricter penalties for wasting water, it's extremely difficult to convince people to change their habits.

Dr. Famiglietti pointed out in March that California didn't have a plan for how to deal with the water crisis; now that disappearing groundwater looks like a global problem, figuring out a solution needs to become global, too.

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