Saturday, October 13, 2012

Drought demands wiser water decisions

Erica Gies in the Daily Climate: Midway through October, almost 64 percent of the contiguous United States remains in some form of drought, as the nation's most widespread drought since 1956 continues to threaten drinking water supplies, crops and livestock.

...The summer's epic Midwest drought has eased in the region's east, where Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois suffer only moderate drought. But farther west, Iowa still endures extreme drought, while Nebraska, Kansas and Oklahoma are gripped by exceptional drought.

...Droughts come and go, of course, but water scarcity is a looming problem, as growing populations increase demand and climate change makes supplies more erratic.  U.S. communities are responding in a number of ways that could be adopted across the nation:

A frequent response to water scarcity is lawsuits. In June, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to take a long-running case in which Alabama, Florida, and Georgia fought over the waters of Lake Lanier, allowing a lower court ruling to stand giving the Atlanta metro area much of the water. Of course, the problem with lawsuits is they don't increase water supply; they just reallocate it.

...Cooperative watershed management is an effective approach that considers an entire watershed for what it is: an integrated, natural system, as opposed to a mere source of a human commodity. It aims to meet the needs of all users in the water system, including cities, farmers, energy producers, plants and animals.

...Between 1950 and 2005, the U.S. population doubled while domestic, commercial and industrial water consumption tripled. However, conservation measures are closing this gap. Between 2005 and 2009, our population increased 5 percent while water withdrawals increased by just 2 percent, according to the U.S. Geological Survey....

A dry riverbed in California, shot by NOAA, Wikimedia Commons, public domain

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