We pump too much water out of the ground—and that’s killing our rivers

By 2050, thousands of rivers and streams worldwide could pass a critical ecological threshold, new research shows.

By Alejandra Borunda PUBLISHED October 2, 2019

“ . . . in recent decades humans have pumped trillions of gallons out of those underground reservoirs. The result, says research published Wednesday in Nature, is a “slow desiccation” of thousands of river ecosystems worldwide. Already, somewhere between 15 and 21 percent of watersheds that experience groundwater extraction have slipped past a critical ecological threshold, the authors say—and by 2050, that number could skyrocket to somewhere between 40 and 79 percent. That means hundreds of rivers and streams around the world would become so water-stressed that their flora and fauna would hit a danger point, says Inge de Graaf, the lead author of the study and a hydrologist at the University of Freiburg. “We can really consider this ecological effect like a ticking time bomb,” she says. “If we pump the groundwater now, we don’t see the impacts until like 10 years further or even longer. So what we do right now will impact our environment for many years to come.””