Aquifers: sustaining life in the desert

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CAP Aquifer Infographic
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Beneath the dry desert earth are aquifers, layers of sand and gravel that store groundwater and willingly soak up any extra moisture sent its way.

This precious groundwater is used for many life-sustaining reasons. Riparian plants and trees absorb it through their roots to grow and thrive and people pump it up through wells for drinking, business and agriculture.

Unlike surface water, which is found above ground in lakes and rivers and replenished annually through rainfall and snowmelt, it can take many years for nature to fill an aquifer and little time for people to deplete it.

When this depletion happens, the water table drops and subsidence occurs; subsidence is when the layers of the aquifer compress causing the ground above to settle and crack, sometimes damaging roads, buildings and vital infrastructure.

CAP does two primary things to support aquifers and help prevent subsidence: delivers a renewable surface water supply and replenishes aquifers through a process called recharge.

Groundwater pumping is reduced through the delivery of renewable surface water from the Colorado River to central and southern Arizona. It is used by cities, tribal communities and agriculture.

Aquifers are replenished through recharge, a process that allows water to flood an area of land and percolate down through the soil where it is stored in the aquifer. CAP has developed seven recharge projects to store Colorado River water and currently owns six and operates five.

These two approaches are critical to maintaining the health of Arizona’s aquifers and ensuring a reliable water supply for many years to come.

Designer’s Note by Travis Dins – Designing Central Arizona Project’s (CAP) aquifer infographic was challenging, which made it a lot of fun. In this case, I was updating an older version of a graphic that was an educational resource as part of CAP’s water education materials for K-12 teachers and students. I wanted to create something modern and visually appealing, but also logical and easy to understand.

To create something eye-catching, I designed what would be in physical form, a large three-dimensional core sample, using vibrant colors to depict layers deep within the Earth. I added a cutaway to illustrate the many layers of sediment and how aquifers work.

Some aquifers are naturally topped off by snow and rain waters, but in central and southern Arizona, two features are important to include, CAP’s infrastructure and a recharge basin, where water can infiltrate the ground and percolate into the aquifer. Water stored in this way today means municipalities, agricultural users and Tribes can depend on this supply in the future.

It’s gratifying to think that an image I develop can help people understand concepts they otherwise might have difficulty envisioning.