A Tangle of Rules to Protect America’s Water Is Falling Short

Dionne Searcey and Delger Erdenesanaa, The New York Times, A Tangle of Rules to Protect America’s Water Is Falling Short. The Times asked all 50 states how they manage groundwater. The answers show why the country’s aquifers are in trouble. Friday, 2 November 2023: AMERICA’S STEWARDSHIP of one of its most precious resources, groundwater, relies on a patchwork of state and local rules so lax and outdated that in many places oversight is all but nonexistent, a New York Times analysis has found. The majority of states don’t know how many wells they have, the analysis revealed. Many have incomplete records of older wells, including some that pump large volumes of water, and many states don’t register the millions of household wells that dot the country. Even states that do try to count wells or regulate groundwater use often have other problems: Some carve out exemptions for powerful industries like agriculture, one of the nation’s biggest users of groundwater. And every state relies to some extent on well owners self-reporting their water use, the Times analysis found. That policy raises the risk of under-reporting or deception by users big and small. Regulations in some states, including Oklahoma, are guided by a principle of letting users extract groundwater at rates that exceed an aquifer’s ability to recharge. Some hydrologists call it groundwater ‘mining.'”