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Conflicts over groundwater and aquifers profiled in recently-published book: Advances in Groundwater Governance

Over 99 percent of the global fresh and unfrozen water is stored underground. Groundwater is the world’s most extracted raw material with withdrawal rates estimated to range between 800 to 1,000 cubic kilometers per year through millions of water wells. Yet after over 100 years of studying the hydrological cycle, there are no consistent methods to calculate the available and recoverable water from river basins and groundwater systems; few hydrological watershed models even address groundwater into their water balance models. 

Conflicts over groundwater and aquifers are very different from those posed by surface water resources. Surface water negotiations typically focus on allocations and flows; negotiations over groundwater typically focus on storage and water quality. If we go "by the numbers" the differences become obvious:

·       308 International River Basins

·       3,600 international treaties related to sharing of water dating back to AD 805

·       Approximately 600 transboundary aquifers

·       Less than 10 formal and informal aquifer and groundwater agreements worldwide

·       Two Aquifer Treaties

·       Four Groundwater Data Sharing agreements


In a new book published by CRC Press on the challenges facing the planet with its addiction to groundwater, Advances in Groundwater Governance, groundwater scientists, engineers, policy wonks, and conflict pracademics address our groundwater future in 28 chapters that cover a range of topics. Case studies include global approaches to groundwater governance, differences in groundwater governance across the US, connections to  groundwater governance and energy, food,  poverty eradication, and the future issues associated with underground storage space as we deplete our groundwater reserves.

My chapter – Cooperation and conflict resolution in groundwater and aquifer management –

describes the peculiar nature of groundwater conflicts and includes research by my graduate students at Oregon State University, University of Oregon, and Tampere University of Technology in Finland. A summary of their research connecting conflict to scientific content focuses on neighbor wars associated with groundwater flooding; the urban-rural divide connected to aquifer storage and recovery; the city-county dilemmas facing nitrates in groundwater; the trifecta of identity-based, interests-based, and investment-based conflicts connected to hydrofracking; and my ongoing research regarding the future controversies associated with developing offshore aquifers. The lessons on cooperation through Scientific Mediation and Serious Gaming in Water Resources, both topics previously profiled in, figure prominently in the wellspring of collaborative groundwater governance. The "bottom line" in my chapter on groundwater conflicts:

Cooperation can be enhanced through a transdisciplinary approach to water negotiations, refusing to accept tired clichés such as agreeing to disagree uttered by dueling experts through scientific mediation, and embracing the challenge of having fun and learning from each other through serious gaming.


Todd Jarvis

Todd Jarvis is a Certified Mediator and faculty member at Oregon State University and the University of Oregon. MORE >

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