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Overexploitation of water: causes, consequences and solutions

Despite being vital for nature and for our development and survival, water is a natural resource that for the last decades has been subjected to strong processes of contamination in aquifers and other bodies of water, as well as overexploitation. Spain is one of the countries with the highest levels of water overexploitation in Europe, where agriculture is one of the activities with the highest demand for water (more than 75%). Although the direct consumption of water by humans represents a small fraction, the water that we use in the domestic environment and that we need to live requires certain levels of quality, which are currently in serious danger.

If you want to learn about the problem of water overexploitation, its causes, consequences and possible solutions , continue reading this AgroCorrn article, because here we will focus on explaining what causes overexploitation of aquifers , how it affects us and how to avoid it . For this, theoretical knowledge is accompanied by clarifying examples of overexploitation of fresh water and important actions to reduce this phenomenon of anthropic origin.

What is water overexploitation and examples

The indiscriminate extraction of water resources , above the recharge levels of the aquifers is what we know as overexploitation of fresh water . Why do we say fresh water? Because the water reserves that we exploit are underground and these, as explained in our article on What are groundwater , are freshwater.

According to a report by Friends of the Earth Europe (2011), in Europe 45% of the water extracted goes to the energy sector, 22% to agriculture (although in some countries, such as Spain, this figure rises to almost 80%), 21% corresponds to the public water supply and 12% to the industrial sector.

An example of overexploitation of water is the Fuencaliente hot spring, in Huéscar (Granada). This body of groundwater dried up as a result of its overexploitation. Among the causes, the proliferation of illegal wells in the area and the lack of control over irrigation systems stand out. Among the solutions, the number of hectares allowed for irrigated cultivation was limited, controls on wells were increased and limits were established for the water to be extracted in the permitted areas.

We recommend you read this other article about the Overexploitation of natural resources: causes and consequences .

Causes of water overexploitation

What causes the overexploitation of water? Here we summarize some of the causes of freshwater overexploitation :

  • One of the main causes that lead to overexploitation of water is the growing demand for this resource by an ever-increasing world population . Agriculture consumes more than 75% of water reserves and its production levels are increasing, which explains the threat posed by intensive and unsustainable practices for the conservation of the resource and its quality.
  • Another great pressure is the illicit collection of water through illegal wells .
  • The way in which groundwater is extracted has also been a turning point in the availability and depletion of the resource. With technological development in the twentieth century, the advent of extraction machines and pumps led to a greater proliferation of wells and current collection rates

Consequences of overexploitation of water

After knowing what the abuse of the extraction of water resources is and some of its main causes, more questions arise, such as: what consequences does the overexploitation of groundwater generate? Or, how does overexploitation of water affect us?

The environmental impact derived from the practices of intensive exploitation of water resources takes decades to manifest itself, making it difficult to manage water reserves in terms of sustainability. Some of the consequences of overexploitation of aquifers are:

  • Less availability of water resources (depletion of the most accessible fresh water sources).
  • Quality effects due to contamination of aquifers and other water bodies.
  • Loss of storage capacity of aquifers due to the redistribution of materials and pores that characterize aquifers.
  • Disappearance of biodiversity , mainly that associated with aquatic ecosystems .
  • Impacts on human health.
  • Drop in the water table.
  • The overexploitation of coastal aquifers causes the salinization of aquifers, that is, a process of saline intrusion takes place in water bodies or ecosystems located in coastal areas. For example, in the Valencian Community, the aquifers present problems of seawater intrusion.
  • It can favor desertification processes.
  • Sometimes, with the overexploitation of aquifers, the release of gases such as CO2 can take place.

Solutions for water overexploitation

Finally, we want to indicate some aspects on how to avoid overexploitation of water . The best solution is to establish responsible and sustainable consumption practices for water resources. Among the actions to reduce the overexploitation of water and put an end to this problem, the following stand out:

  • Sea water desalination.
  • Reuse of treated water.
  • Local management of water resources.

These are some ideas to end the overexploitation of water, but more possible solutions or small gestures can be given by different administrations, governments and even by each person at an individual level to improve this environmental problem. After having learned all this about the overexploitation of water, we advise you to continue reading these other articles on the Causes and consequences of water pollution , Solutions to water pollution and How to avoid water pollution .

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