Freshwater Limits (2009)
Water shortages, which used to be limited to the dry western states, are now a problem throughout the U.S. Even regions that once seemed to have limitless supplies of water are facing shortages and have begun imposing seasonal water restrictions on residents.
In 2002, U.S. Geological Survey associate director Robert M. Hirsch reported that some parts of the country were depleting water that has been around since the Ice Age. He went on to predict that Southwest cities would face water crises in ten to 20 years. Now, six years later, water shortages are projected in 36 states by 2013. 1 Water shortages, it appears, will not be limited to the arid Southwest.
In addition to its impact on water supply, immigration-driven population growth also worsens water pollution. A recent EPA study reported that 44 percent of stream miles, 64 percent of lake acres, and 30 percent of bay and estuarine square miles are currently unacceptable for human uses such as fishing and swimming. Eighty-eight percent of costal beaches were found to be impaired.2
In response to constantly increasing demand, ground water is being pumped faster than it is being replenished. Underground aquifers, the source of about 60 percent of the U.S.'s fresh water, are being steadily depleted. Meanwhile, surface water in lakes and rivers is endangered by our increasing population demands. A lack of affordable fresh water has led some towns to halt development; however, local solutions are inadequate to the nation-wide problem, which stems from our unsustainable immigration policies.
Immigration plays a key role in our growing water crisis because it is responsible for two-thirds of U.S. population growth.The 1.5 million immigrants who move to America each year place an ever-increasing burden on our national water supply. We should not fault recent immigrants for satisfying their water needs; however we must act in our nation’s interest by lowering immigration quotas to a level that is environmentally sustainable.
Around the United States
- Even in the suburbs of notoriously wet Seattle, demand for water is outstripping supply. Even if all current conservation efforts work as expected, population growth means demand in the region will exceed supply by 5 percent in 2020.3
- Population growth has stimulated rapid development in Atlanta, which in turn is responsible for sending huge amounts of polluted runoff directly into streams and rivers. More than 1,000 stream miles in metropolitan Atlanta violate state water quality standards, largely due to storm water runoff.4
- The Chicago area is expected to suffer water shortfalls by 2020, by which time the area will have added 1.3 million residents.
- Meanwhile in Las Vegas, a popular destination for recent immigrants, water authorities have begun paying residents $1.50 per square foot to replace their lawns with "desert landscaping." 5 With every newcomer demanding about 230 gallons of water per day from the already depleted supply, it seems inevitable that drought will continue so long as the population continue to grow. 6
- In California, three years of drought have forced water authorities to cut Sierra-fed supplies to cities and irrigation districts by 85 percent. Tensions are high as urban centers outbid farmers for strictly rationed water.
- Water is already a scarce resource in Texas and demand is expected to increase 27 percent by 2060, even as ground water and surface water sources dwindle. The Texas Water Development Board reports that lack of supply could cost the state economy $9.1 billion per year in 2010 and $98.4 billion per year by 2060." 7
- Although Florida has hundreds of lakes and wetlands, sits atop enormous underground aquifers, and receives more than 50 inches of rainfall a year, it is facing serious water supply problems. The impending crisis is expemplified by Lake County, which expects domestic water demand to triple by 2030. District water managers conclude that projected increases will cause “unacceptable impacts” to over 9,000 acres of county wetlands and 3,000 acres of lakes.8
- In New Jersey, water authorities expect water use to rise nearly 80 percent by 2040.9 Meanwhile, 80 percent of the state’s rivers, lakes, and streams are already too polluted for fishing or swimming.10
- Inter-state relations are also being strained by water shortages. In the case of Kansas v. Colorado. Kansas is suing Colorado for breach of the Arkansas River Compact of 1943, which regulates Arkansas River water rights. The lawsuit arose in the 1980’s after farmers in western Kansas alleged that Colorado was taking too much water, thus depleting their reservoirs. Twenty-five years later the two states are no closer to a resolution.11
Not even the Great Lakes are immune from water shortages. Water levels in Lake Michigan and Lake Huron could drop by five feet over the next century, according to a recent United Nations study. Much of the Great Lakes shoreline already suffers from contamination, and the proportion will increase as water volume falls. Cold-water fish species such as lake trout and salmon are expected to decline in correlation with decreasing water levels and increasing temperatures.12
Updated June 2009
- Steve Nesius, “Crisis feared as U.S. water supplies dry up,” Associated Press, October 27, 2007.
- National Water Quality Inventory: Report to Congress, 2004 Reporting Cycle, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, January 2009.
- Mike Lewis, “Long-Term Water Crises Predicted,” Seattle Post-Intelligencer, August 10, 2001.
- Clean Waters Campaign, 2009.
- Tim Gaynor and Steve Gorman, “Fast-growing Western US cities face water crisis,” Reuters, March 10, 2009.
- How We Use Water In These United States, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, January 27, 2004.
- Susan Combs, Texas Comptroller, “Comptroller Susan Combs Says Future Water Shortages Threaten Texas’ Way of Life,” Window on State Government, February 04, 2009.
- Special Publication SJ2008-SP28, Potential Impacts of Increases in Domestic Self-Supply Water Use in East-Central Florida, for the Period 2013-2030, St. Johns River Water Management District, November 14, 2008.
- Alex Nussbaum, "Officials Float Ideas on How New Jersey Can Avert Water-Supply Crisis," The Record, November 7, 2002.
- What We Do, New Jersey Community Water Watch, 2009.
- Kansas v. Colorado, On the Docket: U.S. Supreme Court News, 2009.
- Jeff Alexander, "Data shows warming eventually will shrink Great Lakes," Muskegon Chronicle, February 5, 2007.