Rocks and sediments that hold and transmit groundwater are called “aquifers.” Aquifers may be just beneath the land surface or very deep underground: water will continue to seep deeper underground until the rocks become too impermeable for the water to pass through. Groundwater that is recharged by surface water seeping through the ground is often fresh, but some groundwater is salty, either because the water originally came from the sea or because the groundwater dissolved minerals from the surrounding rock.
Groundwater is often a "transboundary" resource, shared by many groups of people across town, county, state, and international boundaries. Changes in groundwater resources can create unique challenges requiring high levels of cooperation and innovation amongst stakeholder groups, from individuals to state and federal government.
The High Plains Aquifer (HPA), which spans eight states from South Dakota to Texas, is overlain by about 20 percent of the nation’s irrigated agricultural land, and provides about 30 percent of the groundwater used for irrigation in the country according to the U.S. Geological Survey. Work by the Kansas Geological Survey indicates that some parts of the aquifer are already effectively exhausted for agricultural purposes; some parts are estimated to have a lifespan of less than 25 years; and other areas remain generally unaffected (Buchanan et al., 2015).
The 2016 Critical Issues Forum was a 1-½ day meeting covering multiple aspects of groundwater depletion in the High Plains. Presentations covered the current state of the High Plains Aquifer and water usage from scientific, legal, regulatory, economic, and social perspectives. State-specific perspectives were provided from Kansas, Nebraska, Texas, and Oklahoma, and a variety of issues were discussed surrounding communication, negotiation, policy, and the influence of climate change. Break-out sessions and participant discussions identified lessons learned and best practices from the High Plains Aquifer experience that might apply to other regions facing changes in the Earth system.
The U.S. Department of Energy's Bioenergy Knowledge Discovery Framework provides an interactive map of biomass production potential across the United States (at the time of writing, maps do not cover Alaska and Hawaii). The aim is to show how much biomass may be available for bioenergy production from the present day through to the year 2040.
The U.S. Geological Survey's Water On The Go app provides real-time information on stream flows, lake levels, and rainfall in Texas. The app automatically finds data near your current location (or any chosen location in Texas) for rapid access to water information. Special icons indicate rapidly rising streams and lakes or heavy rain that may pose a flood risk.
Users can click on individual sites for current water levels, a graph of levels in recent days, and links to more data and information about the site.
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources provides an interactive map of underground mines in Minnesota. The map provides detailed information on underground mines and their relationship to overlying surface features. Specifically, this map focuses on iron mines in the northeast of the state.
The North Dakota Public Service Commission provides an interactive map showing the locations of known abandoned mines in North Dakota. Users can click on an individual mine for more information, including the type of mine and the amount of information available for each mine.
On August 5, I packed my bags and headed north to Boston for the annual meeting of the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL). Enroute, memories of my one visit to a wintry Boston as a teenager came back to me... memories of trying to stay warm, seeing my first 3-foot blizzard, and having a blast making snowmen and exploring the historic city with my classmates for an extra five days while the airports dug out from the storm. Fortunately, as I stepped off the plane this time, the weather was mild and dry –a great start to the five days I would spend in Boston promoting the geosciences to lawmakers from around the U.S. and the world.
Welcome to October! Here’s what’s new from the Critical Issues Program:
Around the U.S. and the world there are thousands of projects that enhance the drainage of water into the ground. These efforts improve stormwater management and help to recharge groundwater supplies, but they’re easy to miss, often hidden in plain sight or underground. So we’ve been working with experts around the country to shine a light on this area of applied geoscience. Our introductory factsheets on dry wells and managed aquifer recharge cover the basics. For a look at how these methods are used, we have a case study on managed aquifer recharge in California and a factsheet on dry well programs across the United States. These materials are aimed at geoscientists and decision makers looking for more information on these topics – if you have any feedback, we’d love to hear from you.
We’ve moved! Our building is being renovated, so here at AGI, our Policy, Critical Issues, Education, and Outreach teams have relocated to a temporary workspace in the Navy Yard neighborhood of DC. We’re looking for a Geoscience Policy intern to join us here in the new year. If that sounds like your kind of thing, you can find more information and apply here (application deadline is November 1st).