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Groundwater Study Calls Deeper Wells An Unsustainable Stopgap

By Nicholas Gerbis
Published: Monday, July 22, 2019 - 8:05am
Updated: Tuesday, July 30, 2019 - 11:51am

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Sustainability coverage is supported in part by Intel

Debra Perrone and Scott Jasechko
A map of the U.S. where wells are located.

About 120 million Americans draw their drinking water from wells, and groundwater provides nearly half of all irrigation in the U.S. Today, with aquifers draining faster than nature can refill them, a new study says deeper wells are not the answer.

The research appears in the journal Nature Sustainability.

Based on data from 64 state-, regional- and county-level databases covering nearly 12 million groundwater wells in the U.S., researchers found Americans drill deep wells roughly one-and-a-half to nine times as often as they do shallow ones.

Deeper wells cost more and use more energy. They can dry up shallower wells that draw from the same source and pump out undrinkable salty water that harms agriculture.

Co-author Scott Jasechko of UC Santa Barbara called deeper wells an unsustainable stopgap.

"And if we can put forward plans that would help us to manage these resources more sustainably, it might help us to protect wells from drying up," he said.

Science Sustainability