This article first appeared in the summer 2010 of The Aquifer, a publication of The Groundwater Foundation.  The entire publication can be viewed by clicking the this link The Aquifer: Summer 2010


Educating into the Future

by Tom Spears, Chairman of the Groundwater Foundation

In the late 1990’s, it became apparent to me that mankind was flirting with disaster of a new variety.  Rising populations and rising standards of living were putting strains on our natural resources in a way that they have never done before.  Nowhere was that strain more evident that with fresh water.

Man has harnessed fresh water resources for drinking, washing and irrigation since the beginning of civilization.  Now we are reaching the limits of the available resources.  Seven billion plus people, growing both in number and in standard of living, are continuing to demand more and more fresh water.  In some regions of the world we are already fully utilizing or even over utilizing the available supply.

I’m not an anti-industry, or anti-development advocate.  And although I believe we must maintain our environment to be supportive to other species and natural beauty, I also believe continued economic growth is necessary for the advancement of mankind.

All of which led me to the conclusion that must learn to protect the fresh water resources we have, and make water usage more productive – getting more output for every gallon of water we use.  I found this conclusion to be consistent with the mission of the Groundwater Foundation – to protect groundwater, and improve the effectiveness of its utilization. 

The Groundwater Foundation has elected to try to accomplish this mission through education and local community action, rather than through confrontation, legal action, regulation or divisiveness.  It is a long way to success to accomplish goals through incentives, information, and positive support, but fundamentally we believe that positive engagement will lead people taking direct responsibility for the future of the resource.

After twenty-five years, the Groundwater Foundation has made some amazing strides.  Over five hundred communities have joined our Groundwater Guardians program – a program which impacts groundwater on a local level in communities across the United States.  Our Wellhead Protection program has helped rural communities in Nebraska protect their source of drinking water from agricultural contamination.  One of our newer programs – Green Sites, helps urban users of landscape water to implement best conservation practices, and provides them recognition for doing so.  In just two short years while in prototype, this program has resulted in the savings of roughly 330 million gallons of water, and eliminated the use of some 370 thousand pounds of fertilizer, and a 37% reduction in the use of pesticides.  LEAP into Groundwater is our latest program, targeted at educating middle school and high school aged children through the implementation of a local groundwater conservation project.

We see a future that allows the Groundwater Foundation to continue our philosophy – positive, education based, and local.  And because we’ve learned a lot over the last twenty-five years about the complex relationship between groundwater and surface water, many of the programs our organization has developed have applicability in areas where the primary source of fresh water are surface flows.  As a result, we see a continuing broadening of our programs across the United States. 

Finally, it is my hope that the Groundwater Foundation will become even more actively involved in water conservation in Agriculture, where a very large proportion of consumptive water use occurs, and will continue to occur as the world population continues to rise, and people eat diets richer in meats.

As the next twenty-five years unfold, the Groundwater Foundation is positioned in a unique way to have a major impact on the availability of clean water for our children and our children’s children.  It is a responsibility that the board and staff of the Groundwater Foundation takes very seriously.