The Policy of “Pumping the Recharge” Is Out of Control



Hydrogeologists have spent several scientific generations in understanding the source of water to well fields and the effects of wells on the interrelated surface water system. The benchmark is by Theis [1940], who emphasized that some groundwater is initially mined during aquifer development and, after sufficient time, well discharge will be made up by diminution of both rejected recharge and natural discharge. Rejected recharge is water that would reside in the aquifer, except for a lack of space available. Theis advised that a perennial safe yield is equivalent to the amount of rejected recharge and natural discharge that is “feasible to utilize.” His term “feasible” may have anticipated many current issues about aquifer sustainability. Papers published this year on the Ogallala aquifer in the central United States and on the global groundwater “footprint” [Scanlon et al., 2012; Gleeson et al., 2012] focus on recharge as an index of sustainability and have been featured in the popular press. However, I argue in this Forum that natural recharge rates alone cannot serve to address the core policy question regarding sustainable aquifer conditions in response to well field stresses. For the sake of users of hydrologic guidance, advisors on this topic may wish to reconsider the safe nature of “pumping the recharge.”