by Jamie Oltman, The Groundwater Foundation
Are you familiar with the concept of “Six degrees of separation?”
“Six degrees of separation” is the idea that we are, on average, separated by only six other connections. This is a pretty neat concept to think about. For example can I connect myself to President Barack Obama? My cousin and her daughter went to a dinner where they met Hillary Clinton who was appointed as Secretary of State by President Barack Obama. That seemed pretty easy! Can you connect yourself to the Mayor of your hometown, The Governor of your state, or the President? Without getting into the details or theories behind this concept it’s simply a fun and intriguing idea to think about. Some will say, “It’s a small world after all,” and maybe they are right.
Adding a little spin on this concept of “Six degrees of separation” I have a new game for you. Let’s see if you can connect the four items listed below to groundwater.
A. A hamburger
B. The garbage in your trash can
C. Ski slopes
Regardless of how you got there or how many steps it took were you able to make the connection?
Let’s see if your connections were the same or different as what is listed below.
A- A hamburger – have you ever thought about how much water it would take to make a hamburger?
1. The hamburger was once a cow
2. The cow was raised on a ranch
3. The feed provided for the cow was grown with water both from groundwater and precipitation
4. The cow also had to drink
5. The water for the cow was pumped from a well into a tank for the cow to access.
I have seen estimates range from 100 gallons to 1,300 gallons of water to make just one hamburger. It’s hard to estimate how much water is involved in the process depending on what you include in the calculation. Was the water the cow drank, the water used in the processing of the meat, and the water used in the cooking process all added? Regardless of exactly how much water, it’s a good reminder that water is an important resource in the production of the food we eat.
B- Garbage – did you know in 2009 the US produced 243 million tons of solid waste?
1. We throw away something we can’t use
2. The trash is picked up from our house
3. Trash is added to the landfill
4. Landfills, if improperly constructed and managed can be a source of groundwater contamination.
Landfills today are highly engineered and managed to ensure the materials in the landfill do not cause environmental harm. Landfills are required to be constructed with a base lining that prevents leachate, being released by the decomposing waste, from entering into the soils and groundwater. In addition, landfills are required to test groundwater wells to double check their site is working properly. Remember too that recycling is a better option than simply throwing waste in the trash. Recycling conserves many natural resources including water!
C- Ski Slopes – Do you ever think about how snow on the top of mountains plays a part in the water cycle?
1. Snow on the mountain will melt in warmer months
2. Snowmelt is a major source of water for rivers and streams
3. Snowmelt may also seep into the ground recharging the groundwater
4. Rivers and streams can provide water to farmers to irrigate crops
5. Irrigation water seepage and from ditches can recharge groundwater
6. Some rivers and streams will lose water to groundwater recharge
Now that we are at groundwater can you connect the groundwater back to the ski slopes? The water cycle has no beginning and no end. Water continues to cycle through the system changing from its liquid form to water vapor, a gas, and at times will be frozen in its solid form as ice. After water enters into groundwater it may eventually make its way to the surface filling a river or lake or even ocean. It may also be pumped up to the surface and fill our empty glasses for a cool drink of water. This water will evaporate and end up in the atmosphere and at some point become precipitation and fall back to the earth… and around and around it goes.
D- You – Do you know if the water you drink is from groundwater or surface water?
1. I drink groundwater! (That was pretty easy!)
If you drink water from a surface water source, river or lake, do you think at some point the water you drink may have once been groundwater or after you use it will it one day become groundwater? Remember the water cycle we mentioned in the ski slope example above. In addition, over 50% of the entire US population relies on groundwater for their drinking water source so if the water from your faucet isn’t groundwater I’m sure you know someone who does rely on groundwater for their drinking water source. Also, think back to the hamburger from the first example, I am pretty sure some of the food you eat was grown with groundwater too.
Play this game with your family and friends, try to think of other items and see if you can stump anyone, or see who can make connections with the least amount of steps or the most detailed. Have fun with this game and remember we are all connected to the amazing resource, groundwater!