Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Water Management: A Growing National Issue

Lest anyone think that smart water management is only an issue for California or the West, these stories out today highlight that it truly is a national issue.

First up is a story out of Chicago, where groundwater resources are being stretched thin:
The Chicago region faces a long-term water shortage that could hit some outlying suburbs by 2015, much sooner than previously anticipated, according to recently updated studies.

Projections by the University of Illinois’ Illinois Water Survey show that water supplies that lie under Aurora, the state’s second-largest city, and Joliet soon won’t be able to keep up with population growth.

The deep aquifers are “not going to go dry, but it will become cost-inefficient to pump water from them,” said Josh Ellis, a water policy expert at the Metropolitan Planning Council, a Chicago-based regional policy think tank. “2015 is the tipping point.”

Better planning and conservation measures — starting now, before water shortages become a crisis — could postpone that scenario, according to land use and environmental activists.

CircleofBlue.org reports on water issues facing the nation as a whole:

Americans have good reason to be concerned about the future of the nation’s supply of clean fresh water, according to state and federal research and resource agencies.

The U.S. Drought Monitor, a weekly online report produced by the Department of Agriculture and the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, notes in its latest assessment that one-third of the continental United States is suffering abnormally dry or drought conditions.

Drought conditions grip more than half of the West, with little change from the same time last year. The hardest-hit areas include California, in its third year of a statewide drought, and Arizona, which has been experiencing abnormally dry or drought conditions since August .

Groundwater resources, which provide half of the country’s drinking water as well as irrigation for crops and water for industrial use, also are diminishing, according to the U.S. Geological Survey’s (USGS) Groundwater Resources Program. The Ogallala Aquifer, the massive groundwater network that lies under the Great Plains and feeds water to more than a quarter of the region’s irrigated land, continues to be a significant concern.

“Basically the groundwater is being depleted of its resource,” said Kevin Dennehy, the USGS project coordinator. “It’s been happening for quite some time and it’s going to continue to happen. The removal of water from the aquifer is at a greater rate than water is being re-charged in the aquifer naturally.”

And the issues go beyond scarcity, touching on everything from agricultural productivity to the safety of our drinking water:
...as Circle of Blue reported last year, increased competition for water in the United States poses a growing threat to the American way of life. Scientists and resource specialists warned that freshwater scarcity was hurting farm productivity, limiting some regional economic growth, increasing business expenses and draining local treasuries.

The deteriorating condition of the Ogallala is a case in point. According to a June USGS report water from the aquifer is generally acceptable for drinking, irrigation, and livestock. But irrigation and leakage of nutrients down inactive irrigation wells is increasing concentrations of contaminants including nitrates deep in the aquifer, posing long-term risks to its safety as a source of drinking water.

Without 360 degree sustainable resource management, we could eventually end up in as much trouble as countries like India, where over drawing of the aquifer that supplies most of one region's agricultural irrigation is endangering that nation's food supply.

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