Shaun McKinnon, the Arizona Republic’s water guy, has a must-read piece in the paper’s Sunday edition about his state’s groundwater situation:
Thirty years after Arizona tried to stop cities and towns from using up their groundwater, the state still can’t shake its thirst for one of its most finite resources.
The steady drain on underground reserves grows out of two realities: Canals and pipelines don’t reach far enough to deliver surface water to everyone, and laws don’t reach far enough to stop people from drilling.
If the groundwater addiction continues unabated and under-regulated, the effects will be broad and potentially disastrous: Scarcer supplies could push rates higher and create uncertainty about water availability, discouraging new business and slowing economic growth. If wells start to run dry and aquifers collapse, the landscape could be dotted with fissures and sinkholes.
The piece shows how well-intentioned attempts at regulation, combined with abject failures, has combined to build what looks like an intractable problem as users turn to groundwater on times scales that create the appearance of supply on relatively short time scales, allowing societal infrastructure to expand apace, while ignoring the sustainability of those sources on longer time scales.
If you follow western water issues, I also recommend Shaun’s blog.