These kids probably think there is some kind of magic happening here … they pull down a lever and out of the ground below their feet comes clear, cool freshwater. They (and maybe you) may not realize that there is an immense amount of water in aquifers below the earth’s surface. In fact, there is a hundred times more water in the groundthan is in all the world’s rivers and lakes.
Some water underlies the Earth’s surface almost everywhere, beneath hills, mountains, plains, and deserts. It is not always accessible, or fresh enough for use without treatment, and it’s sometimes difficult to locate or to measure and describe. This water may occur close to the land surface, as in a marsh, or it may lie many hundreds of feet below the surface, as in some arid areas of the West. Water at very shallow depths might be just a few hours old; at moderate depth, it may be 100 years old; and at great depth or after having flowed long distances from places of entry, water may be several thousands of years old.
Groundwater occurs only close to the Earth’s surface. There must be space between the rock particles for groundwater to occur, and the Earth’s material becomes denser with more depth. Essentially, the weight of the rocks above condense the rocks below and squeeze out the open pore spaces deeper in the Earth. That is why groundwater can only be found within a few miles of the Earth’s surface.
Groundwater is an important part of the water cycle. Groundwater is the part of precipitation that seeps down through the soil until it reaches rock material that is saturated with water. Water in the ground is stored in the spaces between rock particles (no, there are no underground rivers or lakes). Groundwater slowly moves underground, generally at a downward angle (because of gravity), and may eventually seep into streams, lakes, and oceans.
Here is a simplified diagram showing how the ground is saturated below the water table (the purple area). The ground above the water table (the pink area) may be wet to a certain degree, but it does not stay saturated. The dirt and rock in this unsaturated zone contain air and some water and support the vegetation on the Earth. The saturated zone below the water table has water that fills the tiny spaces (pores) between rock particles and the cracks (fractures) of the rocks.