Pumping Blind


In the fourth in his series of five articles published by The Tyee, an online newspaper, science journalist Chris Wood describes how British Columbia's groundwater resources could, if properly managed, help solve the most pressing water problem we face as our climate changes: how to smooth out the imbalance between when water comes to us from the sky and when we need it most for growing crops, watering lawns and hydrating sweaty bodies.

Writes Wood, “With each passing year, we're pumping more from the buried lakes and slow-moving underground streams known as aquifers. In effect, we're motoring down the highway, pushing the pedal ever closer to the metal, with no clear idea how fast we're draining the tank, how much it still holds, or when we may suddenly find ourselves running on empty.”

Aquifers come in a variety of forms and kinds. In the article, Wood explains that one of the two main kinds contains locked-in stores of ancient, so-called “fossil” water, often left over from past ice ages; the famous Ogallala aquifer that runs beneath the American High Plains from Texas to the Dakotas is one of these. In general, these aquifers refill very slowly, if at all. Once their water is pumped out, Wood writes, the “tank” is empty. He points out that another kind of aquifer is known as “open.” As the name suggests, these are accessible to water trickling down from the surface. This kind can be refilled — or “recharged” in hydrology lingo.

Comments Wood: “Most of British Columbia's groundwater is of the second type. This is basically good news. In principle it means that water pumped out in summer can be replaced with winter rainfall and melting snow in spring.”

For more on the series, including links to each story by Chris Wood, please click here. A full-time writer for over twenty-five years, Chris Wood was formerly National Editor, Business Editor, U.S. and later Pacific-rim correspondent for Maclean's magazine.


The Tyee is an independent publication that went online in November 2003. According to David Beers, Editor, “We're dedicated to publishing lively, informative news and views, not dumbed down fluff. We, like the tyee salmon for which we are named, roam free and go where we wish.” Over the past three years, The Tyee has attracted some of the best journalists in B.C. who have broken many important stories.


Posted August 2006