“the groundwater problem”

Water is energy, and in arid lands it rearranges humans and human ways  and human appetites around its flow. Groundwater is a nonrenewable source of such energy. These facts are the core of the impact when groundwater is developed in such places. Humans build their societies around consumption of fossil water long buried in the earth, and these societies, being based on a temporary resources, face the problem of being temporary themselves.

To ask what is the impact of developing groundwater in arid lands is simply to seek the price that must be paid for this unique human knack of influencing the availability of water. The answer is this: man builds water-rich societies in arid lands by living out of balance with his water supplies. He uses water faster than it can be replaced by rain. When this fact becomes obvious, people call it the groundwater problem.

Charles Bowden, Killing the Hidden Waters, 1977



  1. Fossil water? I know what Charles Bowden is referring to but I’ve never heard of it referred to that way and I’m involved in a company that handles supplies used by hydrologists and geologists and the only people who still use this term are the old, old, timers. I have, however, heard the word paleowater bandied about from time to time which is basically the same thing as fossil water.

  2. Kenneth – Interesting. I love Google n-grams for this sort of thing. “Fossil water” is the more common of the two (and I added “paleo water” – two words – because I’ve seen it that way as well). What’s most interesting is the timing, a growing awareness of this issue over the last thirty years, perhaps?

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