A new report from the National Resources Defense Council paints a really dry and thirsty picture in a world warmed by climate change: More than 1100 counties in the United States face higher risks of water shortages by 2050, with more than 400 of these placed at extremely high risk. 14 States At Extreme Risk
Tetra Tech, which did the report for NRDC, used publicly available water use data and climate change models to examine water withdrawals versus renewable water supply. The result was that 14 states face extreme to high risk to water sustainability, or are likely to experience limitations in the water supply. This is a 14-fold increase from previous estimates.
Parts of Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Florida, Idaho, Kansas, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Texas all are in this latter category--with the Great Plains and Southwest states singled out as places where "water sustainability is at extreme risk."
Arid Western States' Water Use Already Unsustainable
Stats on water use as a percentage of available precipitation clearly illustrate the problem: In the eastern US generally less than 5% of precipitation is withdrawn; in the majority of the western US water withdrawals are under 30% of precipitation. But in the arid areas of the states mentioned in the report (particularly in California, Texas and the desert Southwest), withdrawals top 100% of available precipitation.
In the Ogallala Aquifer, stretching from Nebraska to Texas and supplying about 30% of all the water used for farmland irrigation in the country, unsustainable water withdrawals have led to the aquifer dropping by more than 100 feet in many places. In fact The Nature Conservancy, whose scientists contributed research for the report, points out that some studies show the aquifer drying up in as little as 25 years.
As previous studies have indicated, the effect of these water shortages and patently unsustainable water use trend on agricultural production is pronounced. NRDC cites 2007 data to show that the value of crops raised in the 1100 counties at risk exceeded $105 billion.
Strong Climate Action by Congress Can Help
Dan Lashof, director of NRDC's Climate Center:
This analysis shows climate change will take a serious toll on water supplies throughout the country in the coming decades, with over one out of three U.S. counties facing greater risks of water shortages. Water shortages can strangle economic development and agricultural production and affected communities.
As a result, cities and states will bear real and significant costs if Congress fails to take the steps necessary to slow down and reverse the warming trend. Water management and climate change adaptation plans will be essential to lessen the impacts, but they cannot be expected to counter the effects of a warming climate. The only way to truly manage the risks exposed by this report is for Congress to pass meaningful legislation that cuts global warming pollution and allows the U.S. to exercise global leadership on the issue.
More on Water Crisis:
Unquenchable: America's Water Crisis and What To Do About It (Interview)
6 Solutions for California's Water Crisis and How We Can Help
What It Looks Like When the Water Crisis Slaps You In The Face - Less Food