Important New Study by Laura Condon Shows Groundwater Pumping Has Significantly Reduced U.S. Stream Flows

Photo HAS Assistant Professor Laura Condon
Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Groundwater pumping in the last century has contributed as much as 50 percent to stream flow declines in some U.S. rivers, according to new research led by HAS Assistant Professor Laura Condon. This is the first study to look at the impact of past groundwater pumping across the entire U.S. Other researchers have examined how pumping has affected surface waters, but at smaller scales. This comprehensive study is extremely important because groundwater is often the slowest component of the terrestrial hydrologic system to recover from losses, Condon said.

Using a computer model, Condon and her co-author, Reed Maxwell of the Colorado School of Mines in Golden, Colorado, determined what U.S. surface waters would have been like without significant consumptive use and compared that with surface water changes since large-scale groundwater pumping began in the 1950s. Their article, Simulating the sensitivity of evapotranspiration and streamflow to large-scale groundwater depletion, was published June 19 in Science Advances. The U.S. Department of Energy funded the research.

"In the West, we worry about water availability a lot and have many systems in place for handling and managing water shortage," Condon said. "As you move to the East, where things are more humid, we don't have as many systems in place."

For more details about the study and its implications across the U.S., particularly the Midwest, see Mari Jensen's article at UA News.org.

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