Solutions for Self-Reliance

Global Aquifer Depletion


When you interact with the world in a position of strength, much of the scarcity mindset can be removed. Resilient solutions are available for just about any problem.

There are some natural resources that are difficult to replace…and difficult to create “alternatives” to.

Today though, we need to address a serious water is for the longevity of the global population.

Nature, an environmental journal, released a study reporting that 1.7 billion people live in regions currently under threat of complete groundwater depletion.

Prof. Marc Bierkens, from Urecht University in the Netherlands, has researched groundwater depletion thoroughly. He estimates that the rate at which people are pumping underground reservoirs into extinction has more than doubled between 1960 and 2000.

This alarming trend continues as agricultural demand increases worldwide. Even in the United States, there are some areas that have experienced massive decreases in groundwater levels in recent years.


This illustration depicts changes to the groundwater levels in the Chicago/Milwaukee areas. As you can see, aquifers are as much as 800 feet lower than they were a little over 100 years ago.

Negative Effects of Groundwater Depletion

The negative effects of groundwater depletion include:

  • Well Problems – As water levels decrease, more energy is required to pump water from the ground. This is especially important in terms of renewable energy where every watt should be accounted for. Wells can also become completely unusable once water levels decrease beyond practical drilling methods.
  • Reduced Surface Water Flow – Surface water is intimately linked to groundwater supplies. As aquifers are depleted, surface water flow is adversely affected and plant life may no longer thrive in areas where it once did.


  • Water Quality Deterioration – Most freshwater aquifers are surrounded by pockets of salt water in the ground. This phenomenon is most easily noticed in coastal areas but is also prevalent inland. As groundwater is depleted, saltwater can enter freshwater supplies and overall water quality can suffer as a result.
  • Subsidence – Subsidence is the gradual settling of the earth’s surface. As much as 80% of subsidence can be directly attributed to groundwater extraction. Over long periods of time, this actually leads to significant topographical changes.

Two Ways to Conserve More Water

There are countless ways to conserve water (many of which we have covered previously). Let’s take a look at a couple of ways we can conserve more water at home. These changes have a positive impact on our property and our community.


Hugelkultur is a gardening technique that relies on decomposing wood to provide nutrients and water to plants.

This technique is very effective for a couple of reasons. First, it is very easy to set up and requires no maintenance once the hugelkultur bed is created properly. In addition to the many benefits of raised bed gardening, hugelkultur is one of the best ways to conserve water typically used for irrigation.

Decomposing wood absorbs water and disperses it throughout the bed as needed. People who have successfully used this technique report that in many cases they only need to water their garden once or twice per season.

This is especially useful in arid climates where daily irrigation is normally required.

Hugelkultur beds also provide organic nutrients to your plants automatically. A 6 foot raised bed can provide nutrients for as long as 30 years without any additives or additional work.

For the purposes of water conservation, the key take away about hugelkultur is that traditional irrigation methods are often not required. This lessens the strain on your household water use; whether it comes from a well or a public utility.

Greywater Recycling

In our August newsletter, we cover greywater recycling techniques in detail. In a typical household, as much as 80% of all water consumed is greywater.

Greywater is defined as any water not contaminated by human waste. This includes laundry, sink water, and water used for showering. By using biodegradable detergents and soaps, this greywater can be reused for irrigation and save hundreds of gallons a month in freshwater.

Although laws about reusing greywater vary by region, it is usually not difficult to set up a basic greywater recycling system at home. Some apartment complexes in Europe have successfully been using greywater to flush toilets. Innovations like this are needed on a global scale to help curb excessive water usage.

Even if you live in an area that currently experiences plentiful rainfall, the next several decades could bring about massive climate changes as tropical zones migrate and groundwater levels reach critical levels.

With billions of people on our planet (an estimated 9 billion by 2030), our water issues are only just beginning. Starting with ourselves, we can take action to conserve more water. Our communities should follow and ultimately, a global initiative to ensure sustainable water usage is needed.

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