Surface water gets all the glory. Here’s what you should know about groundwater and why it’s humankind’s hidden liquid asset.
Everyone is familiar with the wonders of fresh surface water as it flows along our great rivers, fills our lakes, and cascades over waterfalls – while providing a haven for varied and abundant wildlife and food sources. Apart from the beauty and poetry these waters add to our lives, they have been a source of essential water supplies – for drinking, washing and irrigation – throughout human history. Surface water was generally the first choice except where scarce or absent, forcing people to use groundwater either from springs (often unreliable) or from shallow hand dug wells. Although there is 25 times more fresh groundwater on Earth than fresh surface water, most of it was historically difficult or even impossible to access.
However, over the past 150 years, groundwater has become much more accessible thanks to the development of deep drilling, construction and pumping technology. Groundwater today provides around half of all water supplies including for home use, industry and agricultural irrigation. It’s abundance and reliability in many regions has helped drive and maintain population and economic growth previously limited by water scarcity. This is especially true in arid regions such as North Africa and the Middle East.