Research looking at the limits of water use: will our groundwater ever run out?

Published: 18 May 2021

Marc Bierkens, a professor at Utrecht University with a part-time position at Deltares, recently received the prestigious European Research Council Advanced Grant to investigate the current amount of extractable fresh groundwater on the planet. He will also be looking at which quantities will be economically acceptable in the future, and how much can be extracted in ways that are sustainable for people and nature.

€2.5 million will be available for the research over the next five years. We need more and more good-quality groundwater worldwide for our water and food supplies. ‘Groundwater stocks are being depleted faster, with land subsidence and salinisation as a result. But we don’t know how much extractable groundwater is still available and when the end will be in sight. This grant will allow us to learn more about those volumes soon,’ says Bierkens.

He will be working with, among others, Gualbert Oude Essink, who also works at Utrecht University and Deltares. The research will be conducted by three doctorate students and two post-doctorate researchers.

Oude Essink: ‘This is a fantastic opportunity to finally get an answer to a pressing question that can only get more important in the context of climate change and sea level rise. Because we can’t continue using our groundwater like this any more. This research will determine what constitutes responsible extraction. It is hugely important for possibly several billion people who depend on groundwater supplies.’

More than 65% of our water comes from the subsurface in the Netherlands as well.

The European Research Council wants to encourage leading European researchers to pursue new opportunities and openings in their research fields. The grants are awarded in an open competition and assessed by an independent committee of experts.