Last week was the annual World Water Week, a global conference hosted and organized by the Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI). The World Water Week has been the annual focal point for the globe’s water issues since 1991 and is an interesting bell weather indicator of water issues.
A rather resonating statement was made during the Opening Plenary: “If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.” Nowhere is this statement truer than with groundwater. Groundwater is complicated. You can’t see it. Groundwater is driven by a complex combination of pressure and gravity, unlike surface water that flows mainly by gravity alone. The complexity of groundwater makes it hard to measure and monitor over large areas.
It is because groundwater is so difficult to measure that it is also so hard to manage. This is in part why our legal systems tend to split out groundwater from surface water and give groundwater an entirely separate set of rules for governance. One is reminded of a Texas Supreme Court opinion: “Because the existence, origin, movement and course of such (ground) water, and causes which govern and direct their movements, are so secret, occult and concealed . . . an attempt to administer any set of legal rules in respect to them would be involved in hopeless uncertainty, and would, therefore, be practically impossible.”(Houston & T.C. Ry. Co. v. East 81 S.W. 279 (Tex. Sup. Ct. 1904)).
The Oklahoma legislature finally understands the need to manage groundwater in this state. Based on the recommendations in the 2012 Comprehensive Water Plan, Oklahoma lawmakers appropriated in March 2013 $1.5 million for a new Groundwater Monitoring and Assessment Program (GMAP). Representing Oklahoma’s first holistic groundwater network, GMAP will collect baseline groundwater level and quality data from wells in Oklahoma’s twenty-one major aquifers.
With programs like GMAP, we will finally start to manage groundwater – by first measuring it.