Skip to main content
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

The persistence of the water budget myth and its relationship to sustainability

January 1, 2005

Sustainability and sustainable pumping are two different concepts that are often used interchangeably. The latter term refers to a pumping rate that can be maintained indefinitely without mining an aquifer, whereas the former term is broader and concerns such issues as ecology and water quality, among others, in addition to sustainable pumping. Another important difference between the two concepts is that recharge can be very important to consider when assessing sustainability, but is not necessary to estimate sustainable pumping rates. Confusion over this distinction is made worse by the Water Budget Myth, which comprises the mistaken yet persistent ideas that (1) sustainable pumping rates cannot exceed virgin recharge rates in aquifers, and (2) that virgin recharge rates must therefore be known to estimate sustainable pumping rates. Analysis of the water balance equation shows the special circumstances that must apply for the Water Budget Myth to be true. However, due to the effects recharge is likely to have on water quality, ecology, socioeconomic factors, and, under certain circumstances, its requirement for numerical modeling, it remains important in assessments of sustainability. ?? Springer-Verlag 2004.