Scientists warn of looming water crisis with millions of wells at risk

A dried riverbed in western India. Image by Rhett A. Butler/Mongabay.

  • A recent study in Science has found that up to a fifth of wells worldwide are at risk of running dry.
  • The researchers analyzed data about 39 million wells and estimated that between 6 and 20% of the wells were at risk of drying if the water table dipped a few meters.
  • Digging deeper is not always feasible because water quality may be poorer and deeper wells are more expensive to build.
  • As groundwater reserves diminish, wealthier sections of societies would be better positioned to access them, leading to deepening inequalities, a related commentary in the journal said.

Despite its importance, we still don’t really know how much groundwater there is and how the reserves fluctuate. All the signs point to a looming crisis.

Chasing down water is one way to adapt to the situation. Communities can be forced to seek out more remote water sources. In agricultural practice, this may mean small farmers moving away from water-intensive crops or trying to reduce water wastage. But all these adaptations come with a cost and raise concerns that uneven water access will widen existing inequities.

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