Famiglietti on draining the global groundwater bank

Dry season water storage anomalies in California, courtesy Jay Famiglietti/NASA/Nature

Dry season water storage anomalies in California, courtesy Jay Famiglietti/NASA/Nature

Jay Famiglietti in Nature Climate Change (paywalled):

The irony of groundwater is that despite its critical importance to global water supplies, it attracts insufficient management attention relative to more visible surface water supplies in rivers and reservoirs. In many regions around the world, groundwater is often poorly monitored and managed. In the developing world, oversight is often non-existent.

The result has been a veritable groundwater ‘free for all’: property owners who can afford to drill wells generally have unlimited access to groundwater. Some countries, such as India, for example, even subsidize electricity costs for pumping to encourage greater agricultural productivity at the expense of falling aquifer levels.

Dr. Famiglietti offers some policy recommendations:

  • Ag efficiency: “Even modest gains in agricultural efficiency will result in tremendous volumes of groundwater saved”
  • Better data on how much water is actually down there: “the absolute volume of groundwater residing beneath the land surface remains unknown” (Michael Campana is sure to love this one.)
  • Conjunctive management of surface and groundwater
  • Better measurement and reporting of groundwater levels, especially across boundaries


  1. I just re-read “Killing the Hidden Waters” by Charles Bowden. Check it out. It contains some VERY strong analysis of the Southwest’s groundwater dilemma, not to mention wonderful quotations for journalists covering the topic. Science types may wince at the author’s contrasts with Tohono Oodam “resource management” paradigm.

  2. I don’t think this can be brought up enough. Or discussed enough. Once that groundwater’s gone, food production plummets. Then human population will be severely challenged to grow food to maintain population. No one will be invoking the failures of Malthus or Ehrlich then.



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