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What’s Beneath the Surface? World Water Day 2022

Written on: March 14th, 2022 in Outreach

By Olivia McDonald, Wetland Monitoring and Assessment Program

Finally, it’s here! The holiday we all have never really heard of. It might be true that only folks working in the realms of nature know of this environmental festivity. So I figured hey, why not spread the word on something that actually impacts every single one of us – water.

World Water Day has been celebrated every year since 1993, and was created by the United Nations to celebrate water and raise awareness for people across the globe who currently are living without access to safe water. Now the words “safe water” can come in many different shapes and sizes. We are talking about things like drinking water, basic sanitation, bottled water, public facilities, surface, springs, recreational waters, the list really can go on. March 22 is the day, and this year’s theme of World Water Day is groundwater – making the invisible visible.

Image of 2022 theme from the United Nations.

Right off the bat, let’s get started with some basics. What exactly is groundwater?

Groundwater is water found underground in aquifers, which are geological formations of rocks, sands and gravels that hold substantial quantities of water. Groundwater feeds springs, rivers, lakes and wetlands, and seeps into oceans. Groundwater is recharged mainly from rain and snowfall infiltrating the ground. Groundwater can be extracted to the surface by pumps and wells.

World Water Day 2022, United Nations

That definition gives me an overarching sense that what we do as humans on the surface matters underground. Since most of the liquid freshwater in the world is groundwater, choices big and small can affect things like farming, drinking sources, city sanitation systems, or animal populations. Countries with very arid climates often solely depend on groundwater for everyday use. Currently, the United Nations estimates that 40% of all the water used for irrigation of any type comes from aquifers created by groundwater – that is a rather demanding source! And of course to have a functioning ecosystem, such as a wetland or river, you need healthy water. Some of this may seem more like a third world problem, but impacts from fracking or places like Flint, Michigan show us that even in the United States water issues can become a major concern.

You might remember back in grade school learning about the water cycle, and how water in different forms takes certain paths yet is still all one thing. Well it really is. Lakes, rivers, ponds, streams, and wetlands are all within this hydrologic system of waters that are continually connected. When it comes to groundwater there is recharge and discharge. Recharge is when water seeps into the ground to replenish aquifers, and discharge occurs when water emerges from the saturated ground. Luckily wetlands do a little bit of both, but more often, groundwater discharges into our wetland areas. Either function the wetland performs adds value to the relationship of our water and land. Take a look at the benefits below;

  • Helps maintain water balance and water chemistry
  • Enhances or protects water quality
    • Through sediment trapping, nutrient removal, and chemical detoxification
  • Critical to the formation functioning hydric soils in an area
  • Recharges a drinking water source
  • Aids with the daily maintenance of ecosystem habitats for plants and animals
    • Balances seasonal water levels
  • Contributes to the protection or improvement of any impaired water
  • Reduces erosion and sedimentation
A bog turtle in a northern Delaware wetland.
Photo credit: Holly Niederriter

Many places that the citizens of Delaware enjoy – publicly owned parks or state natural areas – contain water dependent on the success of this hydrologic system. In fact, most of the state’s public water supply comes from groundwater. Then we have our Category One wetlands which make up a small percentage of all of Delaware’s wetlands. These are very uncommon, unique freshwater areas like groundwater seepage wetlands. Seeps, as we like to call them, occur in areas on slopes or along slope bases where groundwater flows out onto the surface. Category One wetlands are home to complex habitats and rare plant and animals species, such as the Bog turtle (glyptemys muhlenbergii). I certainly want to keep that cute critter to the right around. As for humans, these wetlands are not only rich in plant and animal biodiversity, but also provide benefits for flood storage and water quality, simply through the groundwater coming to the surface naturally. 

Honing in on groundwater for this year’s World Water Day means remembering that we need to strike a balance between the peoples’ needs and the planet. Continuous over-use of groundwater leads to the depletion of the resource. Overexploitation can lead to land instability and subsidence, particularly in our coastal regions of Delaware where salt water intrusion is occurring. Adaptation and policymaking should reflect the sustainable development for waters of all types. With the spotlight shining more and more on environmental changes, management and governance tools are being developed to combat the pressures of resource availability. Since groundwater is already so vied for, it is imperative to understand its role in sanitation systems, industry, agriculture, climate change, and ecosystems for the future.

Just because something is beneath the surface, doesn’t mean it has to be out of your mind. Wetlands and groundwater, like all the other wonderful natural resources we possess, are not infinite. It starts with you. In your backyard, in your reusable water bottle, in what kind of jeans you choose to wear (Google water and jeans, trust me). Calculate your water footprint to determine how your production and consumption choices affect natural resources. Clean up your local water source with a crew of friends. Every little bit counts, it doesn’t just have to happen on March 22.

To find out more about World Water Day, please visit

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