In the not-too-distant future, we may see a widespread rationing of drinkable water. Water may then become simply unavailable in some regions. As The Washington Post reported on June 16, "new NASA data show how the world is running out of water":
The world’s largest underground aquifers – a source of fresh water for hundreds of millions of people — are being depleted at alarming rates, according to new NASA satellite data that provides the most detailed picture yet of vital water reserves hidden under the Earth’s surface.
Twenty-one of the world’s 37 largest aquifers — in locations from India and China to the United States and France — have passed their sustainability tipping points, meaning more water was removed than replaced during the decade-long study period, researchers announced Tuesday. Thirteen aquifers declined at rates that put them into the most troubled category. The researchers said this indicated a long-term problem that’s likely to worsen as reliance on aquifers grows.
Scientists had long suspected that humans were taxing the world’s underground water supply, but the NASA data was the first detailed assessment to demonstrate that major aquifers were indeed struggling to keep pace with demands from agriculture, growing populations, and industries such as mining.
If you are wondering how important aquifers are to maintaining a fresh water supply, just look to California. According to The Washington Post, "Some expect water from aquifers will account for virtually every drop of the state’s fresh water supply by year end."
A researcher at the University of California at Irvine, who worked on a study of the NASA data, told HNGN.com that global warming droughts increase our dependence on aquifers for water needs:
"As we're seeing in California right now, we rely much more heavily on groundwater during drought," said UCI professor and principal investigator Jay Famiglietti, who is also the senior water scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, in a university news release. "When examining the sustainability of a region's water resources, we absolutely must account for that dependence."
Overpopulation decreases water availability in a variety of ways, including increased usage and contamination of supply through bodily wastes in underdeveloped areas. In addition, the rise in agricultural utilization of water to supply food for a growing planet decreases the aquifer supply. Of course, industrial contamination of the world's fresh water is also a significant factor in its decreasing availability.
Apparently, thus far, researchers have not been able to fully estimate how much water remains in the currently endangered aquifers around the world, but it could be just years before some run dry. Mashable, however, bluntly characterized the peril based on a quote by UC Irvine's Famiglietti: "Earth's largest groundwater aquifers are past 'sustainability tipping points.'"
The combination of rising temperatures and decreasing rainwater (which replenishes aquifers and meets ongoing fresh water demands) - along with the human and industrial pollution of aquifers - is fast presenting more than an abstract threat to human life.
Famiglietti also told the Palm Springs The Desert Sun: "The red flags are that over half of the world's biggest aquifers are being depleted."
It's not pleasant to die of thirst. Many residents of this planet will do just that if we continue to neglect global warming prevention and the protection of our water supply. As much as the fossil fuel companies would like to distract us with the assumption that the world runs on oil, in the end, we don't need oil to survive - but we do need water.