Getting A Perspective on Water Use

by Gene Franks

This article appeared originally in the Pure Water Occasional for September, 2010.

The Sept. 23, 2010 issue of our local newspaper, the Denton Record Chronicle, reported on a local meeting held to promote regulation of groundwater use in our county. One participant, a Mr. Klement, who witnessed water wells going dry in his area because of excessive drawdown of groundwater by gas drillers making “horizontal fractures” in the Barnett Shale to expedite the harvest of natural gas, spoke with considerable knowledge of the subject:

“Guys like me don’t have a city to assist us trying to be a spokesman for individual landowners,” Klement told the crowd, explaining the need for the district.

He said the area needs a conservation district to get a handle on the usage by Barnett Shale drillers.

The average horizontal fracture can use anywhere from 1 million to 7 million gallons of freshwater. There are currently about 14,000 wells in the 24-county Barnett Shale, with another 3,300 permits to drill granted by the Texas Railroad Commission.

Those 3,300 permits mean shale drillers must find as much as another 23 billion gallons of water in the coming months.

“The longer we wait, the longer we don’t have the tools,” Klement told the crowd.

“Out where I am, they [gas drillers] build 15-acre lakes fed by wells 24 hours a day. When they’re fracking, they have four to eight wells going at a time. You can’t believe what’s going on out there. We’re already six months too late — this is the reason for trying to get this set.”

I would like you to think about the wells pumping around the clock to fill the 15-acre lakes that will supply the 1 to 7 million gallons of freshwater used to frack each of the wells that Mr. Klement described the next time you read in a “Seven Ways to Save the Planet” article that you’re a bad person if you fail to turn off the water while you’re brushing your teeth.

As important as it is to avoid waste, the way we brush our teeth really isn’t the decisive factor when it comes to saving the planet. The low-water tooth brushing campaign is one of the many feel-good practices that divert our attention from the real issues. We’re led to believe that if we’ll just fix our drippy faucet, get some low-water appliances, recycle our aluminum cans, and not over-water our lawn everything will be alright.

The real issue with water is that we are allowing industrial and agricultural megacorporations to obtain for a pittance what is really a public treasure. We’re fretting about shorter showers and more water-frugal ways to wash our hands while golf courses and the lawns and the gas wells of the wealthy are being flooded with cheap water.

Americans are easily managed by distraction.

We have also been taught to be very concerned about our choice of bags at the grocery store. However, whether you choose plastic or paper or bring in your own special reusable bag with rain forest pictures and slogans printed on it, your choice of grocery bags amounts to only a tiny sliver of the environmental impact of the grocery purchasing process. Corporate food producers love for you to focus on the grocery bag because it keeps your mind off of the massive environmental devastation that results from our current system of producing and delivering food. It is a system designed to make money–not to provide good food or to protect natural resources. The benefit of a year’s worth of virtuous plastic bag refusals is tiny compared to the impact of the food you choose.

Not long ago when I was helping a customer plan a water treatment system for his lawn watering well I came to the realization that each day he uses more water by 11:00 AM to keep his spacious lawn green than I use in my entire home for a whole month. And I don’t even try to save water. I selfishly shower as long as I want.

It should come as no surprise that we are taking water out of the ground much faster than natural methods can replace it. Here is a UPI release that appeared this month.

Groundwater depletion rate said doubled

Published: Sept. 23, 2010

WASHINGTON, Sept. 23 (UPI) — The rate at which humans are drawing from vast underground stores of groundwater on which billions rely has doubled in recent decades, a Dutch researcher says.

Findings published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters say water is rapidly being pulled from fast-shrinking subterranean reservoirs essential to daily life and agriculture in many regions.

So much water is being drawn from below ground that its evaporation and eventual precipitation accounts for about 25 percent of the annual sea level rise across the planet, the researchers said.

Global groundwater depletion threatens potential disaster for an increasingly globalized agricultural system, Marc Bierkens of Utrecht University in Utrecht, the Netherlands, said.

“If you let the population grow by extending the irrigated areas using groundwater that is not being recharged, then you will run into a wall at a certain point in time, and you will have hunger and social unrest to go with it,” Bierkens says. “That is something that you can see coming for miles.”

The researchers say the rate at which global groundwater stocks are shrinking has more than doubled between 1960 and 2000, increasing the amount lost from 30 cubic miles to 68 cubic miles per year.

Because the total amount of the world’s groundwater is unknown it’s hard to estimate how fast the global supply would vanish at this rate, but if water was drained as rapidly from the Great Lakes they would go bone-dry in around 80 years, scientists say.