• Text smaller
  • Text bigger

The U.S. Drought Monitor is jointly produced by the National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, the United States Department of Agriculture, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

People considering a move to a new city or region frequently check the job prospects, quality of the schools, crime rates, property values and possibly the shopping or entertainment venues.

Soon, maybe, they’ll have to ask whether there’s enough water.

That’s according to a new report from Weather.com listing 10 major U.S. cities facing acute water shortages in the future. Drastic measures will be needed to keep supplies available to millions of Americans, the report said, costing trillions of dollars.

After all, the human body, which is 65 percent water, can only survive three days without more water, scientists say.

The threat encompasses more than just the 10 cities cited in the report – El Paso, Texas; Palo Alto, Calif.; Miami; Lincoln, Neb.; Salt Lake City, San Diego, Los Angeles, San Antonio, Las Vegas and Atlanta.

That’s because the freshwater Great Lakes are at their lowest level ever, reservoirs in California are dry bowls of dust, the life-giving Colorado River now disappears before it reaches its end and underground aquifers are growing tinier each day.

The Weather.com report pointed out that the problem is worldwide, but the resolutions are being developed on a city-by-city basis.

For example, El Paso already had water shortages decades ago but now has seen its population surge from 130,000 in 1950 to some 670,000 today. The city already had resorted to building a desalinization plant to clean up brackish wellwater and uses treated wastewater for crop irrigation and industry, the report said.

In Palo Alto, like other places in California, there soon could be a choice between using water for growing food or for drinking.

“In some regions, stringent water restrictions, including rationing, may be imposed,” noted a report from California’s Water Crisis, a state public education program.

Dire threats

Weather.com also said Miami faces the “dire threats” of rising seas that are pushing salt water into its underground drinking-water supplies.

“In addition to this long-term threat, the region also faces the shorter-term challenges of drought. While this year has brought much more plentiful rain to South Florida, just two years ago an intense drought left nearby West Palm Beach less than two months away from running out of water completely,” the report said.

San Diego officials say they have built 25 reservoirs to protect people during a drought. But Ken Weinberg, a spokesman for the San Diego County Water Authority, notes that if successive dry years require dipping into the storage, “that’s where we’re vulnerable.”

Then there’s Los Angeles, which gets about 15 inches of rain per year on average, mostly in waves. It also gets water from the Colorado River, but estimates are that by 2060, the city’s sources will fall short of demand by 3 million acre-feet a year.

That’s five times what the city uses.

Similar issues are rising for the other cities.

The U.S. Drought Monitor maintained by the University of Nebraska at Lincoln paints huge swaths of the U.S. as abnormally dry, in moderate drought, severe drought or two stages even worse.

The accompanying report notes that a storm that coursed up the eastern seaboard of the United States over the last week did some to alleviate some drought conditions, but abnormal dryness still covers large areas of the states of Pennsylvania, New York and their neighbors.

A report documented by the Associated Press earlier this year concluded America’s freshwater supplies no longer quench its thirst.

“The government projects that at least 36 states will face water shortages within five years because of a combination of rising temperatures, drought, population growth, urban sprawl, waste and excess,” the report said.

‘It it a crisis?’

A spokesman for the American Water Works Association in Denver told the AP: “Is it a crisis? If we don’t do some decent water planning, it could be.”

The report described it as a global issue, with dry spells also reported in Australia and shortages of fresh water in Asia.

The U.S. Geological Survey reports that the U.S. used some 148 trillion gallons of water in 2000, including for residential, commercial, agriculture and manufacturing. It amounts to about 500,000 gallons per person.

In Colorado — which contains the headwaters for several of the major drainages on both sides of the Continental Divide — mountain residences on wells are restricted to using a maximum of about 100,000 gallons per year per family. There are bans on outdoor watering to preserve precious gallons for livestock, and residents cannot let the water drain down the mountainside. It must be returned to an underground system, such as a leach field and septic system.

Blog postings point out the U.S. is allowing water from the Great Lakes, which hold about one-fifth of the world’s fresh water, to be bottled and shipped to China and other countries around the globe.

But fact-checkers vary on the accuracy of that claim.

At the Western Center for Journalism, a report noted that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers confirmed Great Lakes levels reached the lowest ever this year.

According to the report: “‘Plunging water levels are beyond anyone’s control,’ says another expert, James Weakley. But in one of our most popular posts, last year we warned, ‘Lake Michigan water is being shipped by boat loads over to China! By using a little known loophole in the 2006 Great Lakes Compact, Obama minions are allowing Nestle Company to export precious fresh water out of Lake Michigan to the tune of an estimated $500,000 to $1.8 million per day profit.’ Recent heavy rains and snowfall may mitigate low Lake Michigan water levels somewhat, but this trend must be stopped NOW.”

A report posted on Examiner.com in 2012 noted a 1998 agreement in Canada allowed a company to sell Lake Superior water at the rate of 160 million gallons a year to China. But the permit was canceled in 1999.

Loophole

The 2006 Great Lakes Compact outlines standards for protecting the lakes, but it has a loophole that allows the water to be called a product and sold. There have been several unsuccessful attempts to close the loophole.

The latest attempt would ban the export of such water outside the Great Lakes Basin of Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Ontario and Quebec.

A National Geographic posting, however, said whatever water might be extracted from the Great Lakes would be insignificant compared to the estimated 29 billions gallons of water lost per day through evaporation.

“Even if each ship could carry 2.5 million gallons of water in bladder tanks, it would take more than 10,000 ships a day leaving Lake Superior to equal the amount of water lost to evaporation in one day.”

None of which changes the forecasts for water shortages across America.

The Environmental Protection Agency said, “In the last five years, nearly every region of the country has experienced water shortages. At least 36 states are anticipating local, regional or statewide water shortages.”

The Business Insider reported earlier this year that estimates called for $1.5 trillion in spending on water infrastructure over the next 20 years.

“We have made almost no investments in water infrastructure since the Reagan administration,” Upmanu Lall, director of the Columbia Water Center, said in the report. “Something needs to be done about it.”

According to the National Journal, Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., noted just weeks ago that water supplies should be taking a higher priority for American politicians than issues such as the Syrian civil war.

Other studies have listed as many as 20 cities liable to run out of water.

Steve Tracton wrote in the Washington Post earlier this year: “It’s probably safe to say that the vast majority of U.S. citizenry assumes that the U.S. and North America more generally have enough readily accessible sources of fresh water to meet our everyday individual and societal wants, needs and requirements. Unfortunately, as I personally was surprised to learn while researching this subject, that assumption is demonstrably invalid, especially when we assess the likely circumstances in the coming decades.

Indisputable fact

Tracton said the “indisputable fact is that water scarcity is rapidly becoming a significant factor in the way of life in the U.S.”

“Without sufficient foresight and resources for sustainable management of fresh water resources, the problem will become critical in just a decade or two. The range of effects may include (but are not limited to): long-term restrictions on home and community water usage; significant declines in agricultural output as well as meat and dairy produce that require huge amounts of water for irrigation and sustenance of livestock; shortages of just about every product made using water-dependent manufacturing processes (e.g. steel, plastics, pharmaceuticals); and disruptions or complete shutdown of several critical sources of hydroelectric power.”

Tracton said the “fundamentals behind a coming water crisis are encompassed straightforwardly by recognizing that, while approximately 70 percent of the earth’s surface is covered by water, less than one percent is fresh and accessible for human use.”

“The rest is either salt water of the earth’s vast seas, fresh water frozen in the polar ice caps, or too inaccessible for practical usage.”

While the necessity of water for life is unchallenged, there are those who simply recognize the pleasure of a glass of water. One was Capt. Eddie Rickenbacker, the original World War I flying ace, with 26 enemy planes destroyed. He ran the Indianapolis 500 Speedway, was head of Eastern Air Lines and fulfilled a dozen other storybook roles in his lifetime before he died in the 1970s.

He and a half dozen others survived 21 days on a rubber raft in the shark-infested Pacific by drinking rainwater after his airplane got lost and made a water landing.

After their rescue, according to his biography, he drank a glass of water every day just for the pure pleasure it gave him.

What concerns you most about possible U.S. water shortages?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...

  • Text smaller
  • Text bigger
Note: Read our discussion guidelines before commenting.