Almost one third of the planet’s largest groundwater basins are being rapidly depleted, according to a report from NASA this week.
The studies cited in the report show that 21 of the 37 largest aquifers in the world have passed the point of sustainability, while 13 of those are seeing almost no water return back to the water table. The studies concluded humans are using large amounts of groundwater reserves without knowing when they will run out.
The water table is replenished by rain and other precipitation, but because increased agriculture and industries like mining use more water, it's leaving the ground faster than it is being put back in.
NASA said climate change and increases populations would only intensify the problem.
"Available physical and chemical measurements are simply insufficient," said UCI professor and principal investigator Jay Famiglietti, who is also the senior water scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.
"Given how quickly we are consuming the world’s groundwater reserves, we need a coordinated global effort to determine how much is left.”
The places with the driest climates are contributing to the most unsustainable water use, including the drought-stricken state of California, which currently relies on groundwater to provide for 60 per cent of the population's cities and farms.
As a result, the state has had to drill deeper into the ground to find water, pushing past ground that has collected water for decades and even centuries.
"What happens when a highly stressed aquifer is located in a region with socioeconomic or political tensions that can’t supplement declining water supplies fast enough?" asked Alexandra Richey, the lead author on both studies, who conducted the research as a UCI doctoral student.
"We’re trying to raise red flags now to pinpoint where active management today could protect future lives and livelihoods."
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