WHAT IS 'Groundwater'

Groundwater is water that is found underground rather than on the surface. Groundwater is created when rain seeps into the ground through permeable surfaces rather than evaporating into the atmosphere. It can be accessed through wells drilled or dug into the ground.

BREAKING DOWN 'Groundwater'

Groundwater is considered all the water underground. There are three primary layers under the land surface: the unsaturated zone, the water table, and the saturated zone. The unsaturated zone is right beneath the land surface and is the barrier between the land surface and the water table. The water table is the next layer. It may be a few feet or a few hundred feet deep, and it rises or falls depending on how much water is in it. It gets recharged by water flowing into it through to surface from rain or snow. The saturated zone in underneath the water table and is filled with sand, gravel and other rocks and large objects that make up the aquifer. Groundwater from the aquifer discharges into lakes and streams, or it can be accessed by drilling wells through the unsaturated zone and water table into the aquifer.

Groundwater is used as the primary water source for half the population of the United States, especially those living in rural areas. Groundwater is used to provide water to people. It is also used by farmers to water crops and ranchers to provide water to livestock. 

Chemicals and pollutants that are dissolved in water at the surface can filter into groundwater reservoirs, such as aquifers. This poses a substantial environmental threat because the chemicals can affect the health of those drawing on groundwater sources. Polluted groundwater can have a substantial economic impact if livestock become sick or farmland polluted. Stationary sources of pollution include landfills and lined ponds for wastewater, while spills of hazardous chemicals can also pose threats.

Groundwater Controversies

The development and increased use of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, to gain access to underground sources of oil and natural gas has brought renewed focus to groundwater threats. Fracking uses pressurized chemicals and water to break into underground reservoirs. Much of the water used in this process remains underground as the reservoir is depleted, but a portion is brought up to the surface. This water must be treated in order to be safe, but groundwater supplies can become unsafe and unusable if untreated water seeps back underground.

In some areas unrestricted use of groundwater by farmers has led to a depletion of groundwater resources, which causes significant problems during drought conditions. Some states, such as California, have historically considered groundwater a private natural resource rather than one owned by the public, allowing farmers and landowners to extract as much water as they wanted.

Large corporations have also drawn groundwater to sell as bottled water by striking deals with state environmental agencies to draw water from public reservoirs. These contracts, which are written so the corporations do not have to pay the states for the water they take, may not be legal.

RELATED TERMS
  1. Produced Water

    Produced water is waste water generated during the production ...
  2. Water Rights

    Water rights pertain to the legal rights of property owners to ...
  3. Littoral Land

    Littoral land includes land refers to land that is situated ...
  4. Water Damage Insurance

    Water Damage Insurance provided in most homeowners insurance ...
  5. Water Damage Legal Liability Insurance

    Water damage legal liability insurance provides financial protection ...
  6. Primary Recovery

    The primary recovery is the first stage of oil and gas production, ...
Related Articles
  1. Investing

    5 Water Stocks To Tap Into

    An increase in population and pollution has made water a fragile resource.
  2. Investing

    Risks to Consider When Investing in Water

    Investing in water should be a lock. But water is volatile and could see as many risks as potential rewards.
  3. Investing

    With Fracking It’s All About Water Management

    It takes an awfully large amount of water to frack an oil and gas well these days. Given the growth projections for production activity in the U.S. and Canada, water management could be one of ...
  4. Investing

    Should Water Be Privatized?

    Could water privatization mean lower costs, greater efficiency and higher quality compared to public sector providers? A look at the evidence so far.
  5. Investing

    CFWAX: Introducing Calvert Investment's Global Water Fund

    Discover how the Calvert Global Water Fund Class A shares are outperforming the markets in 2016 and learn which stocks may be the right fit for your portfolio.
  6. Investing

    PepsiCo's New Water to be Introduced at Super Bowl

    "LIFEWTR" may help PepsiCo close the gap between itself and Coca-Cola in the bottled water market.
  7. Investing

    Fracking Companies: Practices, Profit Opportunities & Outlook

    Learn about the business opportunities available to companies in the fracking, how they operate and new innovations going on in the stream.
  8. Investing

    Amazon Hit With Irma Price-Gouging Complaints

    Amazon is facing complaints of overpriced water as Floridians prepare for Hurricane Irma.
  9. Retirement

    Earn Your Own Paycheck With Retirement Cash Flow

    Retirement planning won't get you very far without plans to manage your cash flow. So turn retirement income into monthly paychecks with these steps.
  10. Investing

    Beer, Soda Cos. Get in on Sparking Water Trend

    Beverage leaders seek exposure with a wave of new spiked seltzer and premium water products.
RELATED FAQS
  1. What is 'marginalism' in microeconomics, and why is it important?

    Find out why marginalism is such an important concept in microeconomic theory, and what economists mean by marginal utility ... Read Answer >>
  2. How long do oil and gas producers need to go from drilling to production?

    Discover the process of oil well production and learn how long it typically takes an oil producer to move from drilling to ... Read Answer >>
  3. How can marginal utility explain the 'diamond/water paradox'?

    Learn why a diamond is valued more highly than a bucket of water or why a professional athlete is valued more highly than ... Read Answer >>
  4. Why do utility stocks pay high dividends?

    Learn why utility stocks pay high dividends and how government-produced monopoly protects privileged utility companies from ... Read Answer >>
  5. Does homeowners insurance cover broken pipes?

    Learn how a typical home insurance policy excludes coverage for the broken pipe itself but covers the resulting accidental ... Read Answer >>
Trading Center