Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Future of water may leave US thirsting

Disaster News Network: Much of the U.S. is bracing for a future when more people will need to make do with less water. One factor is the climate: parts of the Southeast and Southwest are undergoing severe drought conditions. Warmer temperatures are shrinking the snowpack on mountain peaks, eroding the water source for much of the West. The reservoirs of the Colorado River are half full after eight years of drought and other parts of the U.S. are coming to terms with shrinking groundwater. But that's not the only factor at work.

"Drought is a normal phenomenon," said Frank Richards, a hydrometeorologist with the National Weather Service. "The biggest shift isn't climate change," he said. "It's population." Some parts of the nation that struggle most with water shortages are growing rapidly. The U.S. Census Bureau projects that 88 percent of the nation's growth is going to the South and West, with almost half going to California, Texas and Florida - all states with vulnerable water supplies.

… The 2007 water plan for Texas predicts the state's population will more than double from 2000 levels by 2060 and water demand will increase by 27 percent, while shrinking groundwater and sedimentation in reservoirs will cause the supply to fall by about 18 percent. By 2010, the situation could cost the economy $9.1 billion per year. Brad Udall, director of Western Water Assessment for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), said that communities in the Southwest have had to change how they plan their water supplies.

In much of the West, the water supply depends on the snow that falls in the mountains and melts in spring and summer. People rely on winter snows to keep rivers flowing and reservoirs filling. But if there isn't much snow, there isn't as much water to melt. In recent years, snowpacks have declined over much of the West. While the peaks of the Colorado Rockies are getting good amounts of snow in winter, Udall said not enough ends up in public reservoirs.

…In the short term, the water shortages are likely to be an inconvenience, with homeowners putting up with brown lawns, Udall said. "In the longer term, because all the water out here is fully allocated, we're looking at some transfers from agriculture, which has most of the water, to municipalities, which need it for growth," he said. If that happens, he said, some people are going to have to make serious - and likely painful - changes to their lives.

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