WaterTalk | John Cherry: Groundwater is the Key to a Sustainable Earth

Wednesday, January 18, 2023 3:30 pm - 5:00 pm EST (GMT -05:00)

As part of the Water Institute's WaterTalks lecture seriesJohn Cherry, Distinguished Professor Emeritus, Department Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of Waterloo, Leader of the Groundwater Project, Recipient of the 2020 Stockholm Water Prize and Lee Kwan Yew Water Prize, 2016 presents: The Global Water Crisis Paradox: Groundwater, Food and Poverty.

This event will be offered in person at the University of Waterloo Theatre of the Arts, Modern Languages Building.
3:30-4:00 p.m. Doors Open
4:00-5:00 p.m. Lecture
5:00-6:30 p.m. Reception

The Global Water Crisis Paradox: Groundwater, Food and Poverty

Climate, wars, pandemics, and recessions threaten our society's future, but the most immediate threat is disappearing fresh water. According to the World Bank (2015), “Water is reaching a tipping point.” The US National Intelligence Council’s Strategic Futures Group, March (2021), wrote “Water insecurity is threatening global economic growth, political stability.” According to the World Economic Forum (2021), “Water insecurity risks triggering a global food crisis.” What goes unacknowledged by these and other global policy bureaucracies is that the global water crisis has groundwater problems at its heart. Unless this becomes clearly recognized soon and corrective measures taken, a breakdown of the globalized food economy and subsequent societal collapse become likely. Groundwater is at the heart of the crisis because groundwater makes up 99 % of all liquid freshwater; when drought comes, groundwater is the only freshwater in most regions. Understanding groundwater entails understanding a paradox. In many parts of the world too much groundwater is extracted unsustainably (groundwater mining) for irrigation. However, in rural areas around the world, 3 billion people live in water poverty and need more groundwater development for health, hygiene, and family subsistence agriculture.

On the current trajectory, most of humanity will soon live in water-based food insecurity, water poverty, or both. The solutions must reflect the paradox. Many aquifers must be pumped less to achieve sustainable water yields and food security. Some aquifers need millions of additional small, low-yield wells to supply individual families with a few hundred liters per day, which is too little pumping for groundwater mining. Key to these solutions are the concepts introduced by Glieck and Paniapannan (PNAS, 2010) for peak water, peak sustainable water, and peak ecological water. Lester R. Brown of the Worldwatch Institute warned a decade ago that “the real threat to our future is peak water…over pumping…which threatens food supply” and now it’s happening. Extrapolating from the acclaimed book by Jared Diamond (2005), Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed, we are failing, not by conscious choice but because we do not comprehend what we cannot see: groundwater. We do not recognize the crisis, we are not monitoring the diminished groundwater we have left and we understand little about how biodiversity and groundwater are connected. In knowledge and technology, we are by far the most advanced civilization ever, but our fate is being determined by our ignorance. Hope for redeeming the global water crisis lies in the relatively uncomplicated but nevertheless challenging solutions that are available.

The Groundwater Project (GW-Project), established in 2017, is a Canadian non-profit charitable organization that aims to raise groundwater consciousness and strengthen groundwater expertise worldwide. Since 2017, we’ve published 27 original books with 11 more books near completion; Over 1000 well-recognized scientists and practitioners (including retirees) have volunteered as authors, translators and reviewers. These contributors are associated with over 220 organizations throughout the world. Key to the mission of the GW-Project is fostering rapid dissemination of knowledge and learning tools to universities everywhere including those in developing countries so that those with inadequate teaching resources for comprehensive groundwater education can direct students to synthesized knowledge at a high global standard. Currently, the GW-Project is working with 114 translators (volunteers), translating 18 books, into 41 languages including French, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, Arabic, Farsi, Greek, Hungarian, Vietnamese, and several local African languages. Emphasis is on overcoming inadequacy in knowledge and technical resources for improved access to safe drinking water globally in both remote rural areas and large urban centers, as well as on understanding and avoidance of contamination of Earth’s groundwater resources.

John Cherry, Leader of The Groundwater Project, Distinguished Emeritus Professor, Waterloo and Principal Investigator, Morwick G360 Institute for Groundwater Research, Guelph

Speaker bio

John Cherry
Dr. John Cherry’s research pioneered the field of “contaminant hydrogeology”. He holds geological engineering degrees from the University of Saskatchewan, University of California Berkeley, and a PhD in hydrogeology from the University of Illinois. He joined the faculty at the University of Waterloo in 1971 and retired in 2006 as a Distinguished Professor Emeritus. He co-authored the textbook “Groundwater” with R.A. Freeze (1979) and co-holds several patents, is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, a Foreign Member of the U.S. Academy of Engineering. He was the Chair of the Canadian Expert Panel on the environmental impacts of shale gas development. He has received awards from the USA, UK, Switzerland, Canada, Singapore (Lee Kuan Yew Water Prize, 2016), IAH President’s Award (2019) and the 2020 Stockholm Water Prize. He is currently a Principal Investigator at the G360 Institute and Project Leader for the Groundwater Project (gw-project.org) a project aimed at democratizing groundwater education globally. He is the Director of the University Consortium for Field-Focused Groundwater Contamination Research.

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The University of Waterloo is committed to achieving barrier-free accessibility for persons with disabilities who are visiting, studying or working at Waterloo. If you have questions concerning access or wish to request accommodations for this event, please contact Julie Grant (j26grant@uwaterloo.ca) 

Parking information is available here.

A recording of this event will be made available on our YouTube channel at a later date.