News Stories

There May Not be Much to Drink in the Future

Scientists don't just predict a food shortage for the future, they predict a water shortage too?despite the fact that sea levels are expected to rise?and part of the reason may be corn grown for biofuel production.

A crisis is looming over water shortages worldwide. By 2025 more than half the nations in the world will face freshwater stress or shortages and by 2050 as much as 75% of the world's population could face freshwater scarcity. There is a 50% chance Lake Mead, a key source of water for millions of people in the southwestern United States, will be dry by 2021, due to global warming.

The Connecticut River Watershed is vital to New England, serving as the primary water supply for Greater Boston and a National Fish and Wildlife Refuge for thousands of species of plants and animals, and it?s in trouble too. A new study shows that rising temperatures due to climate change will reduce the availability of water during the summer when demand is highest, and increase sediment and pollution loads carried by rivers and streams. Changes in the watershed will add to existing pressure on ecosystems and have important consequences for agriculture, forestry, fisheries and water supplies.

Without Lake Mead and neighboring Lake Powell, the Colorado River system has no buffer to sustain the population of the Southwest through an unusually dry year, or worse, a sustained drought.

Researchers Tim Barnett and David Pierce think that human demand, natural forces like evaporation, and human-induced climate change are creating a net deficit of nearly 1 million acre-feet of water per year from the Colorado River system that includes Lake Mead and Lake Powell. This amount of water can supply roughly 8 million people.

Barnett says, "We were stunned at the magnitude of the problem and how fast it was coming at us. Make no mistake, this water problem is not a scientific abstraction, but rather one that will impact each and every one of us that live in the Southwest."

Pierce says, "It's likely to mean real changes to how we live and do business in this region." The southwestern US is the fastest growing part of the country.

Water experts Mike Hightower and Suzanne Pierce say, "Drinking water supplies, agriculture, energy production and generation, mining and industry all require large quantities of water. In the future, these sectors will be competing for increasingly limited freshwater resources, making water supply availability a major economic driver in the 21st century."

Freshwater use already exceeds rainfall in many parts of the US, with the worst shortfalls often in areas with the fastest population, particularly in the Southwest.

Grain-based ethanol production?mostly from corn?has increased dramatically in recent years as the cost and instability of oil has increased. New government policies require major increases in ethanol production, which means that even more corn will be grown in the future, with unintended negative water quality impacts. Currently, US grain-based ethanol production is concentrated in the "Corn Belt;" however, several large production plants are under construction or planned near population centers in the eastern US, meaning that water shortages could spread to those areas.

It?s not just the Southwest that's threatened with drought?New England may be in danger too.

Art credit: freeimages.co.uk

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