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Water Resource Issues: Activities Affecting the Water Supply

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  • 0:07 Sources of Water
  • 1:17 Removal of Groundwater
  • 2:40 Removal of Surface Water
  • 3:24 Overdrawing Surface Water
  • 4:29 Irrigation Makes Soil Salty
  • 5:37 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Sarah Friedl

Sarah has two Master's, one in Zoology and one in GIS, a Bachelor's in Biology, and has taught college level Physical Science and Biology.

This video lesson describes water resources issues such as aquifer depletion, overdrawing surface waters and salinization of irrigated soil. You will also learn about the impacts of activities affecting water resources.

Sources of Water

We use water for many purposes, such as for cleaning, drinking, agricultural irrigation and generating electricity from hydroelectric power. There are many sources for this water, but they generally fall into two main categories: groundwater, which is water below the surface of the ground, and surface water, which is water above ground.

Groundwater can be found just below the soil, or it may be found in an aquifer. An aquifer is an underground water reservoir made of permeable rock. These are like large spongy areas, and they can hold water for many, many years. Aquifers do not fill quickly, and can take a really long time to recharge.

Surface waters are what most people are familiar with: streams and rivers. These are very dynamic systems that can move a lot of water and transport sediment and nutrients downstream.

With all of the activities we use water for every day, we end up consuming a lot of water. Think about how much water you use on a daily basis, and then multiply that by the more than seven billion people on the planet - that's a lot of water!

Removal of Groundwater

As mentioned before, some of our water comes from groundwater in aquifers. Aquifers are found all over Earth, and the water in them is removed through wells. The water from aquifers is an important supply for agricultural irrigation, drinking water, municipalities and commercial and industrial uses.

As you now know, aquifers take a very, very long time to recharge. Aquifer depletion is when more water is pumped from the aquifer than is allowed to recharge, and this can cause serious problems in the landscape.

If too much groundwater is pumped from the aquifer, the land may subside. This is when gravity pulls the land down into the space that the groundwater previously occupied. Land subsidence may create dangerous sinkholes, which are cavities in the ground that are funnel shaped and open to the sky. Subsidence is also responsible for the Leaning Tower of Pisa, which was built on unstable ground that compacted from extreme groundwater pumping, causing the tower to sink and tilt.

Other issues that may arise from aquifer depletion include less water reaching streams, rivers and lakes, dried up wells, a lowered water table and salt water entering the groundwater supply.

Removal of Surface Water

Just like aquifers, surface waters also provide a necessary source of drinking water, crop irrigation and energy. And, just like aquifers, streams, lakes and rivers can also be overdrawn.

Water in the Colorado River has been diverted and withdrawn for human needs for many decades. Because of the redirection and depletion of this water supply, it no longer reaches the Gulf of California, though it used to be a strong and steady supply of water, sediment and nutrients to this area. Similarly, the Rio Grande, the Nile and the Yellow River in China all run dry in areas that used to be flush with fresh water.

The Aral Sea in Central Asia is one of the most extreme examples of overdrawing surface water. What used to be the fourth largest lake on Earth is now only one-fifth of its original volume, a change that happened over only 40 years! The cause of this depletion was massive withdrawal for irrigation. What remains of the Aral Sea is a hostile environment of stranded boats, dust contaminated with pesticides and an economic disaster from the loss of agriculture and fishing jobs.

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