What About…


Making the Invisible Visible

Groundwater may be out of sight, but it must not be out of mind.

Groundwater, in some ways, is as simple as it sounds: it is the water stored beneath the ground. It’s found in the geological formations of rocks, sands and gravels that hold substantial quantities of water, called aquifers, feeding into springs, rivers, lakes and wetlands, and seeping into oceans. Groundwater supply is recharged mainly from rain and snowfall infiltrating the ground, and can be extracted to the earth’s surface by pumps and wells.

Almost all of the liquid freshwater in the world is groundwater. It supplies a large proportion of the water we use for drinking, sanitation, food production and industrial processes. In fact, at least half of the water used for irrigation to grow the world’s food comes from groundwater. And in the United States alone, 50% of people rely on groundwater for drinking water, including almost everyone living in rural areas.

As the global climate continues to warm, severe drought is becoming increasingly common and more extreme in already dry areas. Groundwater serves another critical purpose as a key water reserve for areas during times of drought. But overconsumption is a problem. In arid climates especially, groundwater is being pumped at a rate that far exceeds how fast it can be naturally replenished.

Although it is invaluable, groundwater is invisible; hidden to the public eye, poorly regulated and often mismanaged. Groundwater has always been critically important but not fully recognized. We must protect groundwater from pollution and use it sustainably, balancing the needs of people and the planet.


Season 2, Episode 5
Groundwater: Go Deep or Go Dry is Unsustainable

Debra Perrone, Assistant Professor UC Santa Barbara, discusses the dwindling groundwater supply affecting 12 million US wells caused by global warming and over-consumption. The world relies on groundwater, which is getting harder and harder to find.  With groundwater close to the surface vanishing, well-drillers are forced to turn to deep drilling for corporate, agricultural, and domestic water needs. But going deep this way is far more expensive and increasingly yields contaminated water.

Groundwater Community Forum

Natural Systems, Human Nature, Common Ground

On February 26 2021, we hosted a virtual panel discussion with experts to discuss groundwater and the themes explored in our featured films. You can view the recorded panel discussion now via this video. 

MODERATOR: Jay Famiglietti, PhD – Executive Director at the Global Institute for Water Security.

PANELISTS: Neno Kukurić, PhD- Director of the International Groundwater Resources Assessment Centre (IGRAC); Debra Perrone, PhD – Assistant Professor at University of California Santa Barbara; Michael Nemeth, M.Sc., P.Ag., EP – Senior Advisor, Agricultural and Environmental Sustainability at Nutrien. 


To explore the ever-present issues of power and access tied to groundwater, we want to share two films with you: Sweet Oranges (2014) and Water & Power: A California Heist (2017).

This set of featured films is inspired by the very first LTAW event held at UC Irvine in 2009, featuring the neo-noir classic Chinatown (1974), as well as the LTAW Podcast episode, Groundwater: Go Deep or Go Dry is Unsustainable (available above for listening).

At the heart of both the feature-length documentary, Water & Power, and the 16mm short film, Sweet Oranges, is the nexus of food and water, centering the stories of migrant workers and generational farmers who work the land – and often have the least power to benefit from it. ​

Sweet Oranges

Year: 2014
Directors: Nora Sweeney
Length: 18 minutes
Shot on 16mm Film 

Heading west from her house, Director Nora Sweeney explores the back roads off of California State Route 126, finding small, historic towns, farms, and railway tracks nestled between mountains and orchards – a landscape that evokes a dream of California’s past.

It resembles what migrant workers might have envisioned when traveling west in search of work in the 1930s, a vibrant, fertile promised land. This migration continues. In an orange grove, she meets Jaime, Blanca, and Hugo, a group of orange pickers from Michoacan, Mexico, who share with her their songs, dreams, aspirations, and thoughts about work.

Water & Power:
A California Heist

Year: 2017
Director: Marina Zenovich
Length: 87 minutes
Available On:
Amazon Prime Video Apple TV

What happens when corporate power commodifies our natural resources? Water & Power examines the historic seven year drought in modern-day California, exposing the complex and often back-room deals of development, appropriation, and commodification that have contributed to the state’s past and present water crises.

Like a modern day Chinatown, the film investigates wealthy agricultural corporations – able to siphon water through the privatization of the state’s water system – while telling the story of  neighboring communities where water has become scarce. Water & Power zooms-in on the political and economic dynamics of extraction through interviews with 25 experts representing diverse public and private water interests.

Our very own Jay Famiglietti, Director of the Global Institute for Water Security and host of the What About Water? Podcast, is a featured expert and served as the research advisor to the film.

Learn More

Additional Resources