UNCHARTED WATERS: “America Is Using Up Its Groundwater Like There’s No Tomorrow – Overuse is draining and damaging aquifers nationwide,” reports the NY Times in the first of a series on America’s disappearing water (August 2023)

Note to Reader:

For most of human history, groundwater has existed in a convenient equilibrium. Now that equilibrium is at risk in the United States. A NY Times investigative team has spent months compiling data on groundwater levels across the U.S., based on more than 80,000 monitoring stations.

The trends in this new database are alarming. The United States is taking water out of the ground more quickly than nature is replenishing it. Unlike many other environmental trends, this story is not primarily about climate change, although the warming planet plays an aggravating role.

Uncharted Waters

“Many of the aquifers that supply 90 percent of the nation’s water systems, and which have transformed vast stretches of America into some of the world’s most bountiful farmland, are being severely depleted. These declines are threatening irreversible harm to the American economy and society as a whole,” wrote Mira Rojanasakul, Christopher Flavelle, Blacki Migliozzi and 

“The New York Times conducted a months-long examination of groundwater depletion, interviewing more than 100 experts, traveling the country and creating a comprehensive database using millions of readings from monitoring sites. The investigation reveals how America’s life-giving resource is being exhausted in much of the country, and in many cases it won’t come back. Huge industrial farms and sprawling cities are draining aquifers that could take centuries or millenniums to replenish themselves if they recover at all.”

Tragedy of the Commons

“It’s a classic tragedy of the commons,” observed NY Times columnist David Leonhardt when he commented in his newsletter on the investigate work by his colleagues.

“The ecologist Garrett Hardin popularized that term in a 1968 essay based on a 19th-century pamphlet by William Forster Lloyd (1794-1852), an English economist. In the pamphlet, Lloyd explained that any individual farmer had an incentive for his cattle to eat as much grass as possible in any field that the community shared.”

“But if all the farmers did so, the field would be ruined. The solution is for the farmers to agree on a set of rules that benefit all of them in the long run.”

To Learn More:

To read the first in the series, download a PDF copy of America Is Using Up Its Groundwater Like There’s No Tomorrow.