FIVE US Cities Could Run Out of Water

Cape Town, South Africa came close, saved by a rainfall, from running out of water in early 2018.   Climate change brings water shortages to many areas in the Middle East and Africa.  America is not immune from water shortages.  Polluted water strikes closer to home with Flint, Michigan as an example.  In America population growth in the sunbelt, ineffective long term water supply planning  and climate change are all causes of limited supply.  These five cities are “case study” examples of problems not adequately addressed.

It’s hard to imagine a city running out of water, but it could happen. Cape Town, South Africa, came perilously close to running out in early 2018.

Aggressive conservation and efficiency efforts got the city through April 12, the day taps were going to be cut off, CityLab reported. Then in June, the area saw average rainfall for the first time in four years and reservoirs rose.

Cape Town is not alone. Many of the world’s major cities face water stress. They include Mexico City, Tokyo, São Paulo, and Melbourne, Australia. The United States is not immune to water problems, either. Here are five U.S. cities, in no particular order, that could run out of water if the changes they have undertaken aren’t continued.

El Paso, Texas

Sitting in the Chihuahuan Desert, El Paso, Texas, receives only about 9 inches of rain annually.

El Paso
Sitting in the Chihuahuan Desert, El Paso, Texas, receives only about 9 inches of rain annually.
(Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

About 1,000 people arrive in Texas every day. The state’s population is expected to double by 2050 to more than 50 million people, according to the Associated Press. With drought a continual threat, water is a big worry in the Lone Star State.

“The state is growing so fast that we’re constantly playing catch-up when it comes to building resilient water supplies,” Robert Mace, executive director of The Meadows Center for Water and the Environment at Texas State University, told AP. “The question is: When the bad times come will there be enough water for everybody?”

Sitting in the Chihuahuan Desert and receiving only about 9 inches of rain annually, El Paso, Texas, is particularly vulnerable. The city of nearly 700,000 gets its drinking water from the Rio Grande, now called the Rio Sand in places. The river saw historic lows in 2018. Snowfall this winter has helped, but that water has to run from Colorado through New Mexico before it reaches El Paso. In 2013, Texas sued New Mexico saying the state was taking more water than it was entitled to under the 80-year-old Rio Grande Compact, according to the Texas Tribune.

As in many places, part of the struggle is balancing the needs of farmers, who need to irrigate crops, and city dwellers, who need fresh drinking water.

To reduce El Paso’s reliance on groundwater, the city has built a huge desalination plant that converts brackish water into drinking water. In a more controversial move, the city is building a system to treat sewage water and turn it directly into drinking water, according to CNN.

Phoenix

Officials in Phoenix, Arizona, know the day is coming when they can no longer rely on the Colorado River for a large part of its water supply.

Phoenix
Officials in Phoenix, Arizona, know the day is coming when they can no longer rely on the Colorado River for a large part of its water supply.

After years of negotiations, Arizona and six other Southwestern states that rely on the Colorado River for drinking water have agreed to a drought contingency plan, and Congress has passed legislation to put it into effect.

But officials in Phoenix, the state’s capital and largest city, know the day is coming when they can no longer rely on the Colorado River for 40 percent of their water needs. And that’s just one water issue the city of 1.6 million is grappling with.

“We’re sitting in the middle of the desert, trying to grow a city. Which defies logic, for many people,” Cynthia Campbell, the city’s water resource management adviser, told the Phoenix New Times.

The Salt River provides about 60 percent of the Phoenix metro area’s water needs. It is a tributary of the Gila River, and both face climate change impacts.

“They could be affected by a mega-drought,” Andrew Ross, a sociology professor at New York University and author of Bird on Fire: Lessons from the World’s Least Sustainable City, told Yale Environment 360. “They are in the bullseye of global warming, too.”

Phoenix has developed alternative sources, including water that has been stored underground, but the $500 million of infrastructure needed to get that water to all parts of the city is still years away, according to Yale Environment 360.

Los Angeles

Snow-capped mountains stand behind the downtown skyline on February 11, 2019, in Los Angeles, California.

Los Angeles
Snow-capped mountains stand behind the downtown skyline on February 11, 2019, in Los Angeles, California.
(Mario Tama/Getty Images)

Los Angeles gets most of its water from someplace else. Most of its water comes from Northern California and the Colorado River. At the height of the California drought that began in late 2011, Los Angeles imported 89 percent of its water from more than 200 miles away, according to the University of California Los Angeles.

Groundwater represents less than one-tenth of the city’s water supply, according to the University of Southern California’s School of Engineering.

Even when the city is getting plenty of rain, much of that water is lost through poorly maintained infrastructure or evaporation, according to Curbed Los Angeles. The Los Angeles River, covered with concrete to stop flooding in the 1930s, sends about 80 percent of rainfall into the Santa Monica Bay.

Los Angeles has set a goal to cut its reliance on imported water in half by 2025 by diversifying sources, Wired magazine reported. One plan is to have more of that stormwater flow into open spaces so it can wind up back in the aquifer.

Miami

Seawater is encroaching on the aquifer that provides water to the city of Miami.

Miami
Seawater is encroaching on the aquifer that provides water to the city of Miami.
(Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Miami is surrounded by water, but much of it is saltwater. Because of rising sea levels, the seawater is seeping into the city’s aquifer, according to Observer.

In addition, increased flooding because of climate change could wash toxic chemicals from Environmental Protection Agency hazardous Superfund sites in Miami-Dade County into the aquifer, Bloomberg reported.

Finally, Miami-Dade has 90,000 septic tanks. Intense flooding can raise the groundwater level and put it at risk of being contaminated by the tanks.

Atlanta

Atlanta gets only about 1 percent of its water supply from groundwater.

Atlanta
Atlanta gets only about 1 percent of its water supply from groundwater.
(John Amis/AFP/Getty Images)

Georgia’s capital city was founded in 1837 as a railroad hub without access to a major river or lake. It has never had many options when it came to water supply.

The area sits on a thick layer of granite that limits how much water can come from the ground. Groundwater makes up only 1 percent of Atlanta’s total water supply, according to the Metropolitan North Georgia Water Planning District. More than 70 percent of the city’s water supply comes from the Chattahoochee River Basin, with the rest coming from smaller river systems.

The city’s population growth over the years — now at 5.8 million in the metro area — has put a tremendous burden on the water supply. Droughts put even more stress on the supply.

Officials say water conservation is a critical element in meeting the water needs of the area.

Article by Ron Brackett on Weather.com

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Contact: bthornton@assetstewardship.com
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see also:
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