On the water frontU.S. faces water shortage crisis

Published 29 October 2007

Government projects at least 36 states will face shortages within five years; “The last century was the century of water engineering. The next century is going to have to be the century of water efficiency,” one experts says

We have been saying for a while now that the third frontier for technological innovation and savvy investments is water (the first two ar homeland security — broadley defined to include terrorism, natural disaters, and the side effects of globalization — and greener energey/energy independence). Here are but a few headlines: An epic drought in Georgia threatens the water supply for millions; Florida does not have nearly enough water for its expected population boom; the Great Lakes are shrinking; upstate New York’s reservoirs have dropped to record lows; in the West, the Sierra Nevada snowpack is melting faster each year. Indeed, across America the picture is clear — “crystal clear” as Jack Nicholson’s Colonel Nathan R. Jessup would say — and it is not pretty: The U.S. freshwater supplies can no longer quench the nation’s thirst. AP reports that the government projects that at least thirty-six states will face water shortages within five years because of a combination of rising temperatures, drought, population growth, urban sprawl, waste, and excess. “Is it a crisis? If we don’t do some decent water planning, it could be,” said Jack Hoffbuhr, executive director of the Denver-based American Water Works Association. Water managers will need to take bold steps to keep taps flowing, including conservation, recycling, desalination, and stricter controls on development.

“We’ve hit a remarkable moment,” said Barry Nelson, a senior policy analyst with the Natural Resources Defense Council. “The last century was the century of water engineering. The next century is going to have to be the century of water efficiency.” The cost for ensuring a reliable water supply could be staggering. Experts estimate that just upgrading pipes to handle new supplies could cost the nited States $300 billion over thirty years. “Unfortunately, there’s just not going to be any more cheap water,” said Randy Brown, Pompano Beach’s utilities director.

Growing shortage of water is not just America’s problem — it is global. Australia is in the midst of a thirty-year dry spell, and population growth in urban centers of sub-Saharan Africa is straining resources. Asia is especially vulnerable, as it has 60 percent of the world’s population but only about 30 percent of its fresh water. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a United Nations network of scientists, said this year that by 2050 up to two billion people worldwide could be facing major water shortages.

The United States, by the way, used more than 148 trillion gallons of water in 2000, the latest figures available from the U.S. Geological Survey. That includes residential, commercial, agriculture, manufacturing, and every other use — almost 500,000 gallons per person. Coastal states such as Florida and California face a water crisis not only from increased demand, but also from rising temperatures which are causing glaciers to melt and sea levels to rise. Higher temperatures mean more water lost to evaporation, and rising seas could push saltwater into underground sources of freshwater. Florida represents what might be regarded as the U.S. greatest water irony: A hundred years ago, the state’s biggest problem was it had too much water, but decades of dikes, dams, and water diversions have turned swamps into cities. Little land is thus left to store water during wet seasons, and so much of the landscape has been paved over that water can no longer penetrate the ground in some places to recharge aquifers. As a result, the state has no choice but flush millions of gallons of excess into the ocean to prevent flooding. Also, the state dumps hundreds of billions of gallons a year of treated wastewater into the Atlantic through pipes — water which could otherwise be used for irrigation. Florida’s environmental chief, Michael Sole, is seeking legislative action to get municipalities to reuse the wastewater. “As these communities grow, instead of developing new water with new treatment systems, why not better manage the commodity they already have and produce an environmental benefit at the same time?” Sole said.