Earth News Journal 20: Kenya Aquifer

An aquifer found in one of the driest locations on Earth has the potential to quench the thirst of millions of people, according to a recent article from National Geographic News.

An aquifer is a “store of water that [is] trapped underground in geological formations”; aquifers have been a “source of water for centuries.” This particular aquifer, found in September 2013, is located in the Turkana region of Kenya – one of the most “arid regions on this planet.”

Many Kenyans are nomads who “follow water to survive” – their livelihoods depend on the availability of hydraulics. With the miraculous discovery of an aquifer deep beneath Kenyan territory, however, geologists conclude that this water reserve “would be able to quench the thirst of the country’s 41 million people for the next 70 years.”

Previously, individuals would have to travel up to 37 miles to retrieve water for consumption and agricultural use, but this aquifer provides the people of Kenya with an alluring alternative. Before the water can be accessed, though, specialists must conduct tests to determine the sustainability of the water.

“We have to figure out the replenishment rate and whether the water is good for agriculture and the type of agriculture [before allowing the aquifer to be accessed],” Saud Amer, a remote sensing and water resources specialist with the U.S. Geological Survey issued in the initial discovery report.

The main question of debate is quite perplexing – “In a civilization that increasingly strains for water, how can aquifers be sustainably accessed without depleting the Earth of its last bastion of water?”

In recent years, the amount of groundwater extracted for human use has rapidly increased – oftentimes faster than the natural rate of recharge, or the aquifer’s refilling with water from natural sources.

Not all water extracted from aquifers is safe for drinking, either. It could be contaminated by human activities or dissolved chemicals that make human consumption a critical hazard. The deeper the water, the more likely rock contamination has occurred.

As the Kenyan government eagerly anticipates tapping into “this resource as soon as possible,” Amer warns that the “water needs more study before it should be used.” In addition, the “sustainability [of the water] remains an ever-present goal” for the countless researchers in the geological field.

Reflection

As a middle-class American citizen living in a respectable suburban neighborhood, I have never feared running out of water. Sure, with the budget crisis a few years back, I was warned that I should be mindful of my water consumption in the summer months – no excess hose water for spraying my neighbors, no double-showers without necessity. But I’ve never had to walk for 30 miles for a glass of water. I think well-to-do Americans take for granted the availability of H20 – I know I do. According to Robert Swanson, director of the USGS’s Nebraska Water Science Center, “Water security will be extremely important in the next few decades as people adjust to climate change and increasing modernization.” I sincerely hope that the Kenyan population is able to utilize this 250 billion cubic meter aquifer, after adequate tests are conducted on the quality of the water. To have troves of water attainable, yet unfit for consumption, would be devastating in a land as dry and parched as Africa.

Basu, Tanya. “Kenya’s Giant Aquifer Highlights Groundwater’s Critical Role.” National Geographic. N.p., 2 Oct. 2013. Web. 21 Oct. 2013.

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