Climate Change to Worsen Severe Water Shortages in US Southwest


Photo Credit: NASA, SRVR

We're already well aware that the American Southwest, which is naturally hot and dry, is seriously strapped for water. And the situation is getting worse every day, with populations in California, Nevada, Arizona, and New Mexico continuing an unimpeded growth trend that began decades ago. The fact there are too many people vying for limited resources in the region have lead experts to predict a major water shortfall that will cost billions to ameliorate. But add in a new study that reveals climate change is going to dry out the region even further, and we're slated to see a potentially catastrophic water shortage.Time's Bryan Walsh reports:

climate change could make the situation much, much worse. According to the SEI study, global warming could increase the long-term water shortfall by a quarter, adding an additional 282 million to 439 million acre feet of water to the 1.815 billion acre feet shortfall already expected. Based on the price of adding reservoir capacity in California, meeting the baseline water shortage could cost $2.3 trillion--yes, that's "trillion" with a "t"--plus $353 billion to $549 billion if climate change is factored in. Higher water prices would make adaptation even more expensive--assuming additional water could be found at all in a drier future.
But even beyond the mere cost of creating additional reservoirs -- which would no doubt be exorbitant -- there's the fact that a hotter, dryer Southwest will demand more and more energy for cooling. There's the fact that it may reach temperatures that are well near unlivable in some of the desert regions. There's the fact that climate change will make cities in places like Arizona, Nevada and New Mexico far less sustainable than they already are. There's the fact that warmer climes will have an indelible impact on the region's ecosystems -- previous studies have noted that climate change may convert the US Southwest into a permanent desert.

Not to get too doom and gloomy, but it's certainly possible that if temps get high enough, and it simply becomes too resource-intensive and expensive to build reservoirs and water infrastructure that reach to more remote suburbs and communities, we could see an exodus from the region midway through the century. But that's almost preferable to the alternative -- that communities pay for the extremely inefficient and resource-consumptive processes of pumping in water from out of state and adding enough capacity to power their A/Cs in the desert.

More on Climate Change and the US Southwest
US Southwest May Enter Into Permanent Drought-Like Conditions
Water Weirding: American Southwest on Uncertain Ground

Related Content on