Water Water Is Not Everywhere

Wetland Drought | USGS

Wetland Drought | USGS

From where I sit in Georgia, it’s Spring.  The rains are here, flowers are in bloom (as they have been since January), rivers are running high(er), and drought, at least for now, is far from the headlines.  Yet, I know what is lurking just around the corner.  Drought and water issues will be making news again this summer in communities across the Southeast, like a recurring bad dream.

However, across the U.S. this winter, many communities have not had a respite from their urgent water issues and are grappling with how they can stretch their drinking water supplies, water their crops and industries, and cool their power plants.

All the while, new reports and maps have been published that fill data gaps in the broader picture of future of water availability, stress, and risk.  In January, World Resources Institute (WRI) released an impressive updated version of their Aqueduct water risk map, which combines maps of 12 different indicators of water risk, including physical water stress, water quality, and regulatory risk.

In February, the MIT Joint Program on Science and Policy of Global Change released the Analysis of U.S. Water Resources under Climate Change [PDF], which makes the point that, “with or without climate change, U.S. average annual water stress is expected to increase over the period 2041 to 2050, primarily because of an increase in water requirements….”

What’s clear in each of these reports is that it is NOT ONLY the historically water-stressed areas that are at risk for water availability issues.  Betsy Otto of the WRI aptly notes that, “Water stress isn’t just in arid regions anymore. One of the striking things about Aqueduct’s new maps is that many parts of Europe and the U.S. East Coast and upper Midwest now show medium to high levels of water risk.” Due to a wide range of factors, including climate change, urbanization, and increased demand for clean water across sectors, water is becoming a scarce resource in areas where there once was plenty.

Across the country, we are experiencing more frequent and extreme drought.  Growing populations living in ever-expanding metropolitan areas are using more water, coupled with water demands from agriculture, industry, and power production that supports our communities.  As the need for clean water increases, the urgency to develop and implement sustainable ways to manage and share our water resources becomes even greater.

On April 17, American Rivers will release our annual report on America’s Most Endangered Rivers®.  A recurring theme on the list this year will be rivers that are facing critical decisions about how to manage their water supplies.  As you will soon see, diverse stakeholders in communities across the country are confronting this problem head-on.  While one-size does not fit all, we will be shining a spotlight on some smart water solutions that can help communities secure enough clean water for today and for future generations.  Stay tuned!