Four-fifths of U.S. states are expecting to have water shortages in the near future, according to a new government watchdog report.
A Government Accountability Office (GAO) review state water regulators and experts and review of water supply literature found that officials in 40 out of 50 states expect water shortages to occur in some parts of their states in the next decade.
Many officials are concerned about water shortages in the future, especially in the wake of a severe drought that has hit the west coast. In 2012, a summer drought hit much of the Midwest U.S., hurting crop yields and driving up food prices.
But fears over water shortages throughout the U.S. are not new, according to the GAO. The government watchdog said the “key issues surrounding freshwater availability and use have not changed significantly over the last decade.” The GAO said, however, that global warming has added another layer of uncertainty to water supply planning.
“As in 2003, population growth remains a concern, particularly in certain states where water supplies are already limited,” the GAO said. “Data from the U.S. Census Bureau project that the U.S. population will increase by approximately 29 percent between 2000 and 2030, and the western and southern regions are projected to experience the greatest growth during this time. According to data from USGS, some states in these regions have among the highest water withdrawal rates in the United States.”
Even in Maryland, the huge migration to the Washington, DC metro area — spurred by the growth of the federal government — is expected to put huge strains on freshwater supplies in the region. The GAO said “there are concerns with population growth straining water supplies in some parts of the state. Specifically, these officials told us that a large number of people working in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan” arte putting “increased pressure on water supplies in those regions.”
In Texas, more than 20 small water suppliers have said they could run out of water in the coming weeks, reports the Killeen Daily Herald. Across the state, 387 public water suppliers have placed voluntary restrictions on water use while 778 have placed mandatory restrictions on water use.
Last month, it was reported that Wichita Falls, Texas was about to run out of water. For the last three years, the town has been living with driest conditions since the late 1800s.
Many environmentalists have criticized hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, for using too much water to extract oil and natural gas from shale formations. The GAO says that fracking can have an effect on local water resources and poses a concern for some areas, but the overall water usage rate for fracking is miniscule compared to other industries. For example, only 0.08 percent of Colorado’s water supply went to fracking.
Irrigation and electricity generation actually pose much bigger concerns for states, according to the GAO. In 2005, 49 percent of the total water withdrawals went towards thermoelectric power generation and 31 percent went towards irrigation for agriculture.
“Although irrigation remains a significant use of freshwater, the average application rate for irrigation water has declined between 1950 and 2005 as a result of more targeted irrigation,” the GAO said.
Another big consumer of water is biofuel production. The GAO said in 2009 that “water supply and quality can be affected by many stages of the biofuel life cycle.”
“Specifically, to cultivate biofuel feedstocks, crops can be either rain-fed, with all needed water provided by natural precipitation and soil moisture, or irrigated, with at least some portion of their water requirements met through water applied from surface or groundwater sources,” the GAO added. “Water is also used in the fermentation, distillation, and cooling processes of converting the feedstock into biofuel.”
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