Groundwater is most important for providing water during irrigation and clean drinking water.
Groundwater is a vital supply of water on Earth, providing as much as 50% of the global population’s drinking water supply, and ~40% to irrigate crops. It is estimated that 2.5 billion people worldwide rely on groundwater sources for basic needs to survive, particularly people living in rural areas that do not get their water needs delivered from a county/city water company.
With the Earth’s population expected to increase by 3 billion people by 2100, conserving groundwater and surface water sources is critical. Yet, with population increases comes more pollution, and with climate change, sustainable groundwater management is the only solution to protect the Nation’s most important natural resource.
What Is Groundwater?
Groundwater comes from beneath the Earth’s surface in stores called aquifers. These can be accessed using a well as a primary source of water.
An aquifer is a geological formation that is made up of permeable sedimentary layers that can store or yield large amounts of water.
Once groundwater is pumped from beneath the surface, it can naturally be recharged by rainwater and snowmelt, or when water travels below the bottom sediments in rivers, lakes, and ponds.
Groundwater can also be recharged when crops are irrigated, but, if harmful pesticides and/or fertilizers are used, these contaminants can pass into groundwater sources.
Although this is an issue with the water quality in drinking water supplies, as water travels down to the groundwater source, it passes minerals in the sediments which can filter some contaminants and pollutants, improving the water quality. This is why groundwater is more commonly used over surface water, despite it being more difficult to access.
Another issue that affects groundwater is global climate change. With increases in climate change, some areas are experiencing much drier periods than before. While groundwater can be found almost everywhere and is usually recharged via heavy rainfall, exploitation and extended periods of dry weather can cause the water table to fall.
What Happens In A Groundwater Aquifer?
Once the groundwater reaches an aquifer, it doesn’t stop there. Water will keep flowing, but at a slower rate than on its journey down to the aquifer. The flow rate of the groundwater depends on the characteristics of the aquifer.
The direction of the water flow is usually ruled by gravity, unless human impacts such as the pumping of wells happen, causing the water flow to be sucked back up.
The groundwater continues to move until it discharges into another aquifer on the way, or into a body of water (lake, river, etc.), until it is drawn out by a well or motor pump.
For an aquifer to store the groundwater, it needs to have pores or fractures to create empty spaces for the water to be stored and naturally flow through. The more porous the aquifer is, the more permeable it is, allowing more groundwater to be stored and yielded.
Why Is Groundwater Important?
As mentioned, groundwater represents a large amount of the world’s water supply. As groundwater gets stored beneath the Earth’s surface, it is protected from external contamination, so the water quality is much better than obtaining drinking water supplies from surface waters.
But, it is not only the resourceful use of drinking water that makes it so important. Many other industries and applications need groundwater.
Groundwater is a perfect natural resource that has a significant purpose for the global economy. Other than drinking water supplies, groundwater is used for irrigation and the food industry.
Irrigation is the agricultural process of adding a controlled amount of water onto crops and landscapes, such as lawns. This process is also called ‘watering’. Irrigation makes up more than 70% of water withdrawal from groundwater and surface water sources, and from that, it is estimated that 43% comes solely from groundwater.
Groundwater is used when land becomes dry and there is a larger water demand, but when enough rainfall meets the agricultural needs, less groundwater is extracted. Thus, it is used in a ‘flexible manner’. Also, some agricultural industries do not use groundwater for irrigation methods, instead, they rely on rainfall.
Groundwater also plays a vital role in stabilizing water levels in rivers, lakes, and wetlands, especially during drier months when these water basins experience little rainfall and higher rates of evaporation.
When water levels become low in these environments, groundwater can easily be discharged into the different water bodies. Groundwater flow, therefore, provides a sustainable water source for wildlife and plants that live in these aquatic environments.
The most important message regarding groundwater is finding the right balance between extracting the amount needed on Earth and allowing the groundwater aquifer level to recover. If too much water is extracted from groundwater sources, overexploitation would happen.
The easiest and most accurate way to measure groundwater levels is with a submersible pressure transmitter that can be suspended into the well via a cable. When sampling shallow wells, peristaltic pumps may be suitable for testing groundwater samples to prevent cross-contamination during the sampling process.
Can Groundwater Be Protected?
Yes, however, the main challenge in protecting groundwater stores is their location underground. We cannot easily monitor groundwater with the naked eye, therefore, many water supplies are unknowingly polluted or contaminated, or more water is pumped out of the ground than can be naturally replenished.
Groundwater is easily polluted by landfills, septic tanks, underground oil/gas tanks, and the runoff of harmful fertilizers and pesticides. But, that is not the only issue groundwater is facing.
Overpopulated areas are putting immense pressure on groundwater supplies due to a higher demand for water supplies, and as more people occupy an area, the level of pollution also increases.
However, it is not all bad news. Groundwater sources can be recharged and replenished over time. This is a natural process from rain or when the snow melts into the sediments beneath the Earth’s surface. Groundwater can also be restored artificially by redirecting clean water so that the ground can absorb it.
How To Measure The Water Quality Of Groundwater?
As groundwater can pick up contaminants along the way, it is essential to test and measure the water quality before using it for human use, such as for drinking water.
The water quality of groundwater can be measured using different high-quality probes/sensors that cover a wide range of parameters. These parameters include:
To cover most of your testing needs, hydroponics kits are available for high-accuracy readings.
Groundwater is the main source of drinking water in the US, making it a valuable water supply. However, it is also important in irrigation and the food industry. As groundwater is such a critical natural resource, it is important to protect it and remove pollutants when detected during water quality testing.
If you have any questions regarding groundwater, water quality, or what water testing kits we have to offer, do not hesitate to contact our world-class team at Atlas Scientific.
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