New EDF video helps Texans visualize and protect the groundwater they cannot see

Protecting Texas’ vulnerable groundwater supplies raises a challenging dilemma: How can you motivate people to stand up for an underground resource they cannot see?

So we made a video to bring this vital resource to life.

This year, EDF released “Beneath the Surface and Above: The Journey of Groundwater.” The video combines beautiful natural footage from filmmaker Ben Masters and others with computer-generated animation to illuminate the connection between Texas’ groundwater supplies and iconic rivers and springs — and to show how they all need to be protected to safeguard the state’s people, economy and environment.

Groundwater is vital to rivers and streams.

Groundwater is the often-overlooked lifeblood of Texas cities and towns, farms and ranches, and species of all kinds. Nearly a third of Texas’ surface water supplies start underground. During a drought, groundwater can supply virtually all of the water flowing through the state’s rivers and streams.

As the video vividly demonstrates, the health of our rivers depends on the health of our groundwater supplies.

How can you motivate people to stand up for groundwater — an underground resource they cannot see? Answer: a video that brings this vital resource to life. Share on X

Groundwater is arguably the most important water resource we have. It not only sustains our water supplies on the surface, but it also provides 60% of the water used annually in Texas. The state has created a good framework for managing groundwater, which is premised on local control and provides groundwater conservation districts (GCDs) the authority to manage groundwater sustainably.

Local agencies can manage groundwater, but more action is needed.

EDF recently released a report showing how state law specifically authorizes GCDs to implement a variety of tools that can help fulfill their critical mission. However, groundwater districts across the state are often underfunded and under-resourced, making effective, proactive management difficult.

Concurrently with EDF’s study, Robert Mace, executive director of the Meadows Center for Water and the Environment at Texas State University, released a related report showing Texas is losing groundwater at nearly twice the maximum sustainable rate. Worse, under approved GCD management plans, overpumping is likely to increase in coming years unless officials change course.

Local management should not equate a lack of management, as underinvesting in groundwater threatens everyone who depends on it, including overlying landowners and downstream water utilities. After all, aquifers are infrastructure too. For this reason, the state should do more to support local management of groundwater resources.

Visualizing groundwater can help protect it.

We premiered our groundwater video last month at the Water, Texas Film Festival, presented by the Texas Water Foundation. Supported by sponsors like Patagonia and famed Texas director Richard Linklater, the festival encourages the use of filmmaking to tell engaging stories about an existentially important subject that too often gets obscured in legal, policy and scientific minutia.

After the festival screening, Robert Mace and I participated in a panel discussion about the film, our reports, the larger issue of groundwater management and how Texas can better protect this resource.

We both agreed that storytelling — through film or any other medium — helps make the issue of sustainable groundwater management real for people.

As I said that night, when people visualize something, they are far more likely to care about it. It was a rewarding reminder of the vital importance of our task: to make the connection between groundwater and surface water more visible, so people understand that groundwater is critical to our way of life in Texas and that the state needs to do more to invest in its long-term management.

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