In March, my colleague, Dr. Michael Sklash, spoke at the American Bar Association’s 37th Water Law Conference.  The topic of his presentation was “Impacts to Freshwater Resources from Drought and Sea Level Rise.”

One of the images Mike used in his presentation shows, rather dramatically, the effects of subsidence when groundwater is aggressively pumped from the subsurface.  See image below from the San Joaquin Valley.

Globally, water has been a top priority for the United Nations for many years.  Among the water-related challenges outlined by the United Nations are the more than 2 billion people who lack access to safe drinking water, the increased water scarcity, and the increased pressures on water supply as demands on agriculture continue to grow with the global population.

In the United States, water use has been in focus for many years, especially following the drought of 2012 and, prior to that, 1988.  There are many demands on our water supply, including industry, agriculture, residential use, and, now, the new marihuana market.

According to the United States Geologic Survey, the following are top three largest users of freshwater in the United States:

  • Thermoelectric: 143 billion gallons/day
  • Irrigation: 118 billion gallons/day
  • Public Water: 39 billion gallons/day

There are many competing interests for water supply, including the aforementioned marihuana market, which we discuss below.

Marihuana and Water Use

The issue of groundwater use in marihuana growing and processing will likely increase as more states legalize the use of the drug for recreational purposes.  There are a variety of estimates of water use for growing marihuana from 2.3 to 6 gallons/plant/day.  The larger point is that this is another potential “stressor” on water use.

The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality has guidance for marihuana growing, “Protecting Water Resources When Growing and Processing Marihuana.”  For more information about environmental services for the cannabis market, see our environmental due diligence page.

For western states where water is already at a premium, water use and conservation for this growing business may be a more significant factor.

An extreme example of subsidence from aggressively pumping groundwater (San Joaquin Valley).

Agriculture and Rural Development and Water Use

For those developing in rural areas, including farms (and marihuana growers), it is increasingly important to know if there is sufficient groundwater to supply your company or agricultural demands.  The Dragun Corporation has helped evaluate groundwater-supply issues for more than 30 years.

Several years ago, a client asked us to evaluate groundwater supply at their site before they developed their Dairy Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation.  We were able to “steer” them away from this site as the groundwater was brackish and very limited in quantity.

As housing developments continue to push into rural areas where they depend on groundwater, there are more pressures on the local aquifer.

In one instance, a developer asked us to assist him as he was expanding a residential development and could not figure out why he was unable to get water at one location that was directly across the street from an existing home.  What he didn’t realize was that there was a distinct subsurface ridge that, essentially, cut off the aquifer within a few hundred feet of a home where there was plentiful water.

Good News about Water Use

While water pressures are real, especially for developing nations, we should not lose sight of our progress in water conservation.  Charles Fishman writes in The Secret Life and Turbulent Future of Water that in the United States, Americans use less water today than we did in 1980, not just in per capita terms, but in absolute terms.

Fishman states that water use in the United States peaked in 1980 at 440 billion gallons a day.  According to the United States Geologic Survey, in 2015, the total water use in the United States was 322 billion gallons a day.  During this same time, the population has gained another 94 million people.

This greater efficiency in water use does not just happen.  It is the result of focused efforts in conservation practices and drought-resistant crops.  And, as global population is projected to grow for the next several decades, there will be more pressure to conserve water.  This is especially true where there are competing interests in the same aquifer.

It’s easy to take water for granted.  But, as Benjamin Franklin said, “When the well is dry, we’ll know the worth of water.”  And, as our global population continues to grow, demand for water and water conservation will be important.

Groundwater Experts

If you have questions about water, water supply, or permitting water withdrawal, we can help.  Our groundwater experts have decades of experience in evaluating water supply and helping our clients make well-informed decisions about where, and where not, to develop.  Contact me at 248-932-0228 with any questions you may have, and I can connect you with one of our groundwater experts.