Domestic Well Depths Are Increasing in U.S., Study Says

July 23, 2019

Well depth suggests water resources could run dry quicker than expected

Domestics wells in the U.S. are in danger of drying out due to groundwater depletion, according to a 50-year well depth trend study published in Nature Sustainability.

"We actually don't know that much about how much groundwater is being used and where groundwater wells are located," said Debra Perrone, assistant professor at the University of California–Santa Barbara (UCSB) and lead author of the study published in Nature Sustainability, according to Pacific Standard. "Groundwater is often referred to as an invisible resource. Groundwater wells are small, they're distributed, they're often lost among the landscape."

The research team looked at both the numbers and depth of wells to provide insight on the current state of the reservoirs. According to Pacific Standard, there has been no centralized database of groundwater infrastructure until now. The UCSB research team compiled data from 64 state and local databases to conduct the study. 

Perrone’s team focused on five aquifer systems: The Central Valley aquifer in California, the High Plains aquifer in the central U.S., the Northern Atlantic Coastal Plain aquifer system, the Floridan aquifer system, and the Mississippi embayment aquifer system. The data showed that between 1950 and 2015, domestic water wells were being drilled deeper, but Peronne’s study suggests well depth has not correlated with water scarce areas as some groundwater aquifers are deeper than others.

"Drilling deeper is not a sustainable, long-term solution," Perrone said in an interview with Pacific Standard. "It's more of a stopgap solution."

According to Pacific Standard, the systems picked for the study all feed densely populated regions, agricultural hubs, or areas with heavy industrial activities.

According to Pacific Standard, around 120 million Americans count on underground aquifers for drinking water. Farmers use groundwater to irrigate their crops, and the industrial water industry used underground water during the manufacturing process. In some areas of the U.S., groundwater has been pumped out of aquifers faster than those aquifers can be replenished, according to Pacific Standard

For a complete look at the research and conclusions of Perrone’s team, read the full study in Nature Sustainability.