More than 55% of the world’s population live in cities and this number is expected to grow further over the coming decades…
By Emily Gonthier
Drip. Dribble. Whoosh. Shhh–Water seeps… weaving its way underground through pore spaces left between humus and rock particles. Maybe it finds silent stillness in a formation of impenetrable rock, resting in the darkness for a time. Or perhaps it keeps flowing underland, eventually returning to sunlight, either in a spring or river as natural surface water, or coerced to the surface by human engineering. Regardless of its emergence, this subterranean water accounts for the largest share of liquid freshwater on earth (97 percent!)  and is a lifeblood for global ecosystems and societies.
It’s World Water Day and this year’s theme is “groundwater”–the invisible resource critical to earth processes and relied upon by humans for agriculture, drinking water, and industry. Across the globe, groundwater accounts for nearly 40 percent of water used for agriculture  and more than 50 percent of drinking water . Aquifers are an important source of freshwater, especially in water-scarce regions. They are also finite. The journey to become groundwater is long, and humans draw from its pools faster than it is recharged. Despite being necessary and limited, groundwater is often left out of management plans and governance , a growing concern as reliance on groundwater continues to increase and groundwater resources are depleted.
The mission of World Water Day is to raise awareness for the billions of people living without access to safe water and to spur action toward the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 6, which is to ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all. All countries have agreed to work toward achieving the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030, a show of shared commitment to moving into the future on a framework that balances economic, social, and environmental dimensions of human life on earth–an ambitious task on a rapid timeline.
A crucial part of meeting our global goals is transforming diverse, evidence-based knowledge into action. PLOS Water is here as a forum for knowledge-sharing that “[bridges] the diverse scholarly and practice communities” , inviting academics, government agencies, professional and community organizations, engineers, water professionals, and all who engage with water to be a part of the dialogue. Only together we “can influence and shape the future use of water globally”  in a way that ensures well-being for us and the planet.
For this World Water Day, I encourage you to reflect on groundwater in your life with the “One Minute Challenge“: how does groundwater affect your life? Is there enough? Is it safe? What needs to be done to protect groundwater? Recognizing the intimate relationship we have with the water around us is a first step to fostering sustainable water exchanges into the future.
- Check out stories and resources for World Water Day
- Explore the UN Sustainable Development Goals and our global progress
- Engage with PLOS Water
- Read the UN World Water Development Report 2022
Emily Gonthier is a Production Coordinator at PLOS. She has a background in environmental engineering with special knowledge in the use of natural systems to improve water quality, and spent years studying the design and implementation of constructed wetlands to make the San Francisco Estuary more resilient to climate change. Emily finds energy in exploring and sharing ideas in all formats (written, verbal, graphic, auditory, physical, etc.). This is her first contribution to the Latitude blog.
- Guppy L, Uyttendaele P, Villholth KG, Smakhtin V. Groundwater and Sustainable Development Goals: Analysis Of Interlinkages. UNU-INWEH Report Series, Issue 04. United Nations University Institute for Water, Environment and Health, Hamilton, Canada. 2018. Available from: https://inweh.unu.edu/wp-content/uploads/2018/12/Groundwater-and-Sustainable-Development-Goals-Analysis-of-Interlinkages.pdf
- Siebert S, Burke J, Faures JM, Frenken K, Hoogeveen J, Döll P and Portmann FT. Groundwater use for irrigation– a global inventory. Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci. 2010; 14: 1863–1880. doi: 10.5194/hess-14-1863-2010
- United Nations World Water Assessment Programme. The United Nations World Water Development Report 2015: Water for a Sustainable World–Facts and Figures. Paris, UNESCO. 2015. Available from: http://www.unesco.org/new/fileadmin/MULTIMEDIA/HQ/SC/images/WWDR2015Facts_Figures_ENG_web.pdf
- World Water Day Fact Sheet (2022). Available from: https://www.worldwaterday.org/learn
- Davis J and Horwitz P. PLOS Water: A bridge and a voice for the water sectors. PLOS Water 2022; 1: e0000018. doi: 10.1371/journal.pwat.0000018