The Water Scarcity Reality

Fri, 2013-03-22 08:56

The rapid depletion of clean water supplies worldwide poses significant threats to the social, environmental, economic, and political spheres of society. Water, which forms the basis of life on Earth, is a precious commodity that is often taken for granted by citizens in highly industrialized countries of the world, such as the United States. However, for more than 40 percent of the world’s population, finding clean water is a challenge, and according to the U.S. Intelligence Community Assessment of Global Water Security, more than two-thirds of humanity will live in water-stressed areas by 2025.

To combat the issue of diminishing water supplies is to not only reduce water consumption, but more importantly to change public perceptions that water shortages are only a regional, rather than a global concern. In the United States, for example, reports show that the general public still perceives water supply issues as being limited to arid regions such as Africa and the Middle East, despite recent series of droughts that have occurred across the country. However, water scarcity is becoming a dangerous reality for millions of residents in the American Southwest, as the Colorado River and Lake Mead continue to lose water at increasing rates.

Colorado River & Lake Mead

As an important water source for major metropolitan areas such as Las Vegas, Phoenix, and Los Angeles, the Colorado River is rapidly depleting from excessive siphoning. In its natural state, the Colorado River is capable of moving 15.7 million acre-feet of water into the Gulf of California each year. However, the continued overconsumption of water has reduced that flow to 12 million acre-feet, causing the mouth of the river to be nothing but dust. The water taken from the river is instrumental in providing habitat in the high desert of Las Vegas as well as providing a source of agricultural productivity in areas of California (specifically the Imperial Valley). The loss of sufficient water due to overconsumption would have major impacts not only to the natural environment, but would create major economic strain, political strife, and human health and vitality hazards.

Moreover, the Hoover Dam, one of the most recognizable American landmarks, is situated on Lake Mead, and provides electricity to a variety of cities in the West. Under recent contracts signed by President Obama, electricity is split between Nevada (23.37% of electricity), Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (28.53%), state of Arizona (18.95%), city of Los Angeles (15.42%), and Southern California Edison (5.54%). Changes in rainfall patterns, snowfall melt, water consumption, and increased evaporation from higher temperatures have significantly impacted the ability for hydro-electric power generation to meet the growing demand for the citizens in these service areas.

Additionally, as depicted in the above picture, the water level in Lake Mead has decreased tremendously causing a white ring to appear, where mineral deposits were left behind by previous high waters.Although water consumption is not the sole reason for the decline, it has not helped the drought situation in the region. As millions of citizens rely on Lake Mead for both electricity and water (the lake is located on the Colorado River), it will be important for citizens to understand their role in potential future resource conflicts. Water scarcity in the region would have devastating impacts on the area, and the country as a whole (given its importance to agriculture, goods/services, and the economy) and is, therefore, a national interest rather than strictly a regional concern. While there are numerous examples of water scarcity issues in the U.S., the following represents one of the most pressing and serves to illustrate that the U.S. is not immune to the global problem of clean water availability.

Other Water Scarcity Developments in the U.S.

In addition to the Colorado River and Lake Mead, the U.S. is currently experiencing the following challenges:

• The U.S. uses approximately 148 trillion gallons of fresh water a year, with water sources continuing to decline due to overconsumption and unnecessary waste.

• According to a report by the U.S. government, 36 states are already facing water shortages or will be facing water shortages in the next few years.

• Approximately 40 percent of all rivers in the United States and 46 percent of all lakes are no longer fit for human use, as the water bodies are considered polluted.

What can we do? The problem of water scarcity is an issue that affects every living being on the planet and it is necessary for all of us to understand our role in reducing the unsustainable consumption that is currently taking place in high resource areas such as the U.S. However, while the country has more water resources than other areas, it is not an unlimited resource. As human population continues to increase both domestically and internationally, the demand for clean water will become a matter of national security, economic stability, and human preservation. Taking steps to reduce your water consumption can help reduce the intensity of problems we may experience in the future, but there are steps you can take to reduce your water usage, such as installing low-flowing water devices, reducing unnecessary water flow, and limiting the amount of water used for landscaping.

Given that today marks the 20th anniversary of World Water Day, take some time to think about how you can reduce the amount of water that you consume daily. Water scarcity is a major current sustainability concern that has lasting impacts on future human development. For more information about the United Nations’ initiative and what you can do to reduce your water consumption, please visit World Water Day.

By Peter J. Bock

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