Southeast US In As Much Water Trouble As Desert Southwest

water towers photo

Photo by James "Tre" Hayes via Flickr Creative Commons

It's usually the southwestern US that makes the news for its water woes, what with its deserts climates and high populations. However, researchers state that the southeast is in just as much trouble when it comes to having adequate water supplies for future years. From issues to storing enough water, to reduced rainfall and more frequent droughts, the southeastern states are likely to feel the water crunch in the very near future. Western Farm Press reports on a new paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that focuses on the water problems of the southwest, but points out that the southeast has similar problems.

While the southeast has a multitude of reservoirs, they rely on annual rainfall to replenish. Because rainfall is more sparse during rainy seasons and droughts are more frequent, those reservoirs are less and less reliable. Additionally, the reservoirs lose storage capacity as they fill with sediment. Smaller reservoirs lose more water to evaporation than large ones, which means over all, the reservoirs just don't hack it.

From Western Farm Press:

In order for water supply to be considered sustainable, the researchers calculated that no more than 40 percent of freshwater resources can be appropriated for human use, to ensure that streamflow variability, navigation, recreation and ecosystem use are accommodated. They also determined how much water a region would need to meet all its municipal, agricultural and industrial needs--its virtual water footprint. The VWF includes the water needed if a region were to grow enough food to support its own population.

The researchers found that neither the Southwest nor the Southeast have enough water capacity to meet all their own needs; both these regions virtually import water from other parts of the country, in the form of food. "The Southeast has virtually no positive, inland VWFs," said Kominoski, who earned his doctoral degree from the Odum School. "The largest population centers in southeastern states, with the exception of Florida, are inland. Piedmont cities such as Atlanta, Charlotte and Birmingham rely on small watersheds, which may be why our VWFs are negative."

The researchers also note that their estimates -- based on information from 1950-99 -- is on the conservative side, since this past decade has been one of the hottest on record, and more frequent droughts are expected in coming years.

Overall, the research shows that the US has to figure out a smarter way to manage and conserve water. It includes using technology such as smart meters, but it also means more intelligent ways of raising and distributing food, which is a major part of a regions water footprint. Water expert Peter Gleick wrote a couple months ago that the US has already passed the point of peak water. This new research helps highlight that it's not just the dry areas of the US like the desert southwest that has water woes -- when huge portions of many states don't have adequate supplies it's the whole country that feels the pinch.

Follow Jaymi on Twitter for more stories like this
More on Water Supplies in the US
Is the US Already Past the Point of Peak Water?
What Percent of the World's Freshwater Supply Do the Great Lakes Contain?
U.S. Water System Crumbling, Survey Supports Fix
Higher Water Shortage Risks in One Third of US Counties Due to Climate Change: NRDC Report

Related Content on