- Along with backyard barbecues and family vacations, drought
and water shortages have increasingly become a rite of summer for many
- Damaged crops, dead landscapes, stinky water, higher
water bills and, in some areas, mandatory water restrictions have become
all too common.
- This summer, much of the Southeast, the Southwest, parts
of Texas and Hawaii are in the throes of moderate to severe drought. Conditions
in Georgia, north central Florida, and parts of Louisiana and Alabama are
- "For parts of the Southeast, this was as bad a drought
as they,ve ever experienced, said Michael Hayes, a climate specialist with
the National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska.
- In Texas and northern Mexico, the difficulty is not so
much the severity of the current drought, but the cumulative impact of
drought over five of the last six years. In the parched Rio Grande Valley,
reservoirs have dropped to a record low of 19 percent of capacity.
- Most climatologists, environmentalists and water experts
agree it is becoming more difficult and expensive for many communities
to meet increasing demands for water created by population growth and economic
development. In times of drought, meeting those demands becomes even tougher.
- "There is no question that we, as a nation' are
taxing the available water resources that we have, said Doug Marsano, a
spokesman for the American Water Works Association' which represents local
water utilities. "Without widespread conservation efforts and better
monitoring, the impact of droughts when they hit will be more intense and
insure more hardship.
- Although nearly three-quarters of the earth's surface
is covered with water, only 3 percent of the world's water is fresh. Two-thirds
of that is frozen.
- By global standards, the U.S. is water rich. It has 4
percent of world's population' but 8 percent of its fresh water. But the
availability of fresh water varies widely by region and several trends
have combined to make it increasingly difficult for many communities to
expand existing supplies.
- More people, less water
- Nearly all the nation's easily and cheaply accessible
fresh water is already spoken for. And shifting population growth in recent
decades to more arid Sunbelt communities has increased water demand in
the regions least able to meet those demands.
- "That makes them more vulnerable to a drought situation
than they might otherwise be, Hayes said. "In some areas of the country
we are definitely heading toward a point where it will take just a minor
drought to cause major problems.
- Rapid population growth in Sunbelt cities such as Atlanta
and Phoenix taxes not only the water supplies in those urban centers, but
also in neighboring states and communities who compete with them for water.
- With new water sources harder to obtain' communities
and water utilities are increasingly stressing conservation as the main
solution to coping with supply.
- Water demand in Los Angeles, for example, has remained
flat despite increased population for the past two decades primarily because
of conservation' said Steven Erie, an expert on water supply issues in
- "The problem is that we,re now talking about adding
two and a half new Chicagos to Southern California, he said. "Just
the sheer numbers are going to drive up demand even with all the conservation
that we,ve had.,,
- As a consequence, thirsty communities in Southern California,
Colorado and elsewhere are increasingly buying up water currently used
- Nationally, less than 10 percent of water use is residential.
About 35 percent is agricultural and 55 percent is industrial, including
power generation. But in California, 80 percent of the water used irrigates
- "What we,ll see in the U.S. is what we have already
begun to see, that is, a reallocation of water. I do not think we can continue
expanding the supply as we have in the last 50 to 100 years, predicts Sandra
Postel, director of the Global Water Policy Project and author of Pillar
of Sand: Can the Irrigation Miracle Last?
- Some farmers are also conserving more water using recent
innovations in irrigation. Instead of sprinklers that spray water into
the air with significant evaporation losses, more farmers are using drip
irrigation and special sprinklers that target particular areas and keep
water closer to the ground.
- Serious consequences
- Sometimes water transfers from agriculture to cities
have serious consequences. In eastern Colorado, when water has left prairie
farms, the land has dried up and farm communities have evaporated.
- For years, Southern California has been significantly
overdrawing water from the Colorado River " 5.1 billion acre-feet
of water instead of the 4.2 billion acre-feet the state is permitted under
interstate water agreements. Seven states and parts of northern Mexico
rely on water from the river, which often runs dry before reaching the
- An acre-foot equals 325,851 gallons, enough water to
supply three households of four people each for a year.
- One potential solution that is being given greater consideration
is desalting seawater. But desalinization has serious drawbacks. Plant
construction is expensive, the process consumes vast amounts of energy,
and disposal of leftover salt is an environment concern.
- Still, advances in technology have brought the price
of desalinization down. Some coastal communities are beginning to plan
- "It reminds me of the way we thought about nuclear
power 30 years ago - that it would become too cheap to meter, Postel said.
"Of course, it never happened.,,
- Another serious supply problem is ground water depletion.
The Ogallala Aquifer, which spans parts of eight states " South Dakota,
Nebraska, Kansas, Colorado, Wyoming, Oklahoma and Texas " is one of
the world's biggest aquifers. But with the introduction of powerful centrifugal
pumps after World War II, farmers and communities have been draining water
from the aquifer far faster than it can be recharged.
- That has caused water levels to drop precipitously, making
water withdrawal more difficult and more expensive.
- As a result, in some parts of the aquifer " particularly
northwest Texas " farmers have begun to shift to more dryland farming,
to less thirsty crops or to abandoning farming altogether.
- "While they have been doing a good job of improving
their efficiency, they are still not in a balance situation with the aquifer,,,
Postel said. "They are still depleting it, and in a drought year they
have to pump even more.,,
- A flood of water woes
- Water woes are not limited to the Sunbelt. The record-shattering
drought that crippled Middle Atlantic states last year has focused more
attention on water supplies and conservation.
- The Northeast is also beginning to experience the kind
of legal battles over water that have been commonplace in the arid West
- The town of Waterbury, Conn., was successfully sued by
residents concerned that plans to increase water withdrawals from the Shebaug
River would harm streamflows, fisheries and recreation. Boston's plans
in the mid-1980s to divert more water from the Connecticut River were abandoned
in favor of greater conservation after protests from environmentalists.
- The bottom line, said Hayes, is that "droughts have
always been a problem. They are problem now and they will continue to be
a problem regardless of what the climate is going to be in the future.
So we need to take steps to prepare for that.
- Contact Washington Bureau writer Joan Lowy at <mailto:email@example.com@shns.com.
Check out our Web site at <http://www.waterwoes.com/www.waterwoes.com
- State Strives To Implement Water Law
- By Anna M. Tinsley Scripps Howard Austin Bureau 7-11-00
- AUSTIN - Texas lawmakers had tried and failed more than
six times to pass a statewide water plan by the time Senate Bill 1 was
proposed in 1997.
- Many thought SB 1, designed to ensure the state has enough
water in the 21st century, would also fail.
- It was, after all, a politically sensitive topic that
pitted urban districts against rural districts, and addressed the contentious
issue of transferring water from one part of the state to another.
- But many underestimated the perseverance of former Lt.
Gov. Bob Bullock.
- Bullock, who died last year, initiated work on the bill,
gave it the priority title of Senate Bill 1, testified for the bill in
a committee hearing and pushed lawmakers to find a compromise.
- "Our very survival depends on this,,, Bullock said
when the bill was introduced.
- At the time, Texas was one of the few states with no
drought-management plans. Lawmakers passed the legislation in the waning
days of the 97 legislative session.
- Some hailed it as the most significant legislation passed
- The 1997 success laid the groundwork for more legislation
in 1999 " and potentially for more water legislation next year, observers
- The bill included more than 300 pages of rules designed
to make sure Texans have enough water.
- Among the requirements: * Developing a statewide water
conservation plan. * Making interbasin transfers more difficult, although
some transfers were protected, such as Abilene's plan to build a pipeline
and pump water from O.H. Ivie Reservoir in Coleman County. * Designating
the Texas Water Development Board as the lead agency for adopting a comprehensive
state water plan every five years. * Requiring data collection to better
monitor levels of local water supplies and to give tax exemptions for
manufacturers that install water conservation and recycling equipment.
- "Bob Bullock was the driving force behind this,,,
said state Rep. David Counts, a Knox City Democrat and chairman of the
House Natural Resource Committee. "This was his legacy. It's going
to prove for many years to be the right thing to do.,,
- Low expectations
- But Bullock wasn't even sure the measure could pass.
- He thought lawmakers could lay the groundwork for the
water bill in 1997 and then pass it in 1999, said Mike Hailey, a former
Bullock aide who's now a spokesman for the Texas Democratic Party.
- "For 40 years, water agencies developed water plans.
And then they,d sit on the shelves, gathering dust, waiting for legislative
action',, Hailey said. "Nothing ever happened.
- "Bullock thought 1997 was the time to do this. He
thought if we didn't have vision and foresight, then one day our grandkids
were going to turn on the faucet and nothing would come out.,,
- The controversial Senate Bill 1 was sensitive to negotiate
because it limited interbasin transfers. But it also established regional
water planning groups and required communities and the state to develop
comprehensive water plans.
- State Sen. J.E. "Buster Brown' R-Lake Jackson' took
the lead in the Senate and state Rep. Ron Lewis, D-Mauriceville, took charge
of the bill in the House.
- Knox City's Counts chaired the House committee that worked
on the bill.
- "Senate Bill 1 was absolutely a must. We had to
pass it,,, Counts said. "It was almost ridiculous that we hadn't mapped
out a plan for Texas, inventoried our water sources and had no real data
to go forward with.,,
- Lasting legacy
- State and local officials are still implementing provisions
of SB 1.
- By October, the 16 Texas regional planning groups must
turn in drafts of regional water plans to the Texas Water Development Board,
spokeswoman Janice Cartwright said.
- The final plans are due Jan. 5. Then the water board
has one year to incorporate the 16 plans into a statewide water plan.
- The statewide plan will analyze water supplies, project
population fluctuations and determine if there will be enough water in
each region for the next 50 years. And if there isn't, the plan will identify
water management strategies to meet the deficit, Cartwright said.
- When lawmakers passed SB1, Bullock called it the most
significant legislation in the last 25 to 30 years. Others later called
it one of the final gifts Bullock gave Texas.
- "Senate Bill 1,,, Agriculture Commissioner Susan
Combs said at the time, "will serve as a lasting testament to his
foresight and commitment to agriculture and to this great state.,,
- Contact Scripps Howard Austin Bureau writer Anna M. Tinsley
at (512) 478-9644 or <mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org@scripps.com.
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