Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Water Scarcity On The Increase Out West

During the winter months, my weekly conversation with my Dad usually involves the weather. He tells me how it is eighty degrees outside in the San Fernando Valley while the wind chill touches zero here in New York. Then I counter in a semi-joking manner that goes something like this: "Well Dad, you live in a desert, of course it's warm, but at least we get rain here."

While it is funny over the phone, the future implications of that warm, dry weather are extremely dangerous for a part of the country that keeps growing in population yet is seeing its average precipitation amounts falling. Scientists continue to study the problem, but the more they pore over the data, the worse the outlook becomes.

From The NY Times:

The work builds on an earlier study by the researchers that looked at whether Lake Mead, the huge reservoir behind Hoover Dam, would eventually go dry. For the current study, they tweaked their model of river inflows and outflows and looked at the delivery shortfalls that would be needed to keep Lake Mead at the lowest functioning level. The modifications in the model “didn’t really change any of our answers,” Dr. Barnett said. “It just made the study a lot stronger.”

The study found that, with a 20 percent reduction in runoff, by 2050 nearly 9 of every 10 scheduled deliveries would be missed. But the problem may be even worse, because the allotments were determined in the 20th century, when, according to tree-ring data, the region was wetter than normal. So if drier conditions persist, delivery shortfalls will be even greater.

Water deliveries would have to be reduced, something that is achievable through conservation, water reuse and other measures. “We are hopeful that this would serve to get people to sit down now and see what options look realistic,” Dr. Barnett said, “before you have a crisis on your hands.”
On top of all that disheartening news concerning climate predictions, the article forgets to take population growth into account. Cities throughout the west are growing at exponential rates and they simply cannot take consume more for what the area allows. Here on the east coast, twenty million people in the NYC area have no problem getting water from the watershed upstate. We consume a lot, but there is more than enough supply. We even waste millions of gallons a year from faulty pipes and it is still ok (though that really should be fixed). Out in the west, every drop counts, and there are simply too many people for a decreasing amount of water.