Skip to main content

What is groundwater?

Groundwater is water that exists underground in saturated zones beneath the land surface. The upper surface of the saturated zone is called the water table.

Contrary to popular belief, groundwater does not form underground rivers. It fills the pores and fractures in underground materials such as sand, gravel, and other rock, much the same way that water fills a sponge. If groundwater flows naturally out of rock materials or if it can be removed by pumping (in useful amounts), the rock materials are called aquifers.

Groundwater moves slowly, typically at rates of 7-60 centimeters (3-25 inches) per day in an aquifer. As a result, water could remain in an aquifer for hundreds or thousands of years. Groundwater is the source of about 40 percent of water used for public supplies and about 39 percent of water used for agriculture in the United States. 

Learn more:

Related Content