Running Dry: Looming Water Shortages in The United States (2012)

Executive Summary

Most Americans are fortunate enough to enjoy clean, abundant supplies of fresh water. But, despite tremendous gains in water conservation over the last several decades, we are using water at an unsustainable rate. The reason: Population growth.

Some areas of the United States are already experiencing acute water shortages, a trend that will spread throughout the country in the coming years. Compounding the problem are outdated public water systems that pose health and safety hazards to millions of Americans. The estimate to repair our outdated water supply infrastructure is between $500 billion and $1 trillion.

Population growth has cancelled out all the gains in conservation and is resulting in an overall rate of use that continues to put a severe strain on the nation's water supply.

Immigration has been the primary driver of U.S. population growth since 1970. Between the 2000 and 2010 Censuses, the U.S. population increased by 27 million, with immigrants and their progeny accounting for 70 percent of the increase. Demographers project that immigration will account for an increasingly higher percentage of U.S. population growth in the coming decades.

We cannot continue to ignore the threat to the nation's water supply. If we don't reduce our usage, make the necessary investment in repairing our failing public water systems, and work to achieve population stability, chronic water shortages are years, not decades, away.

Key Findings:

  • Critical water supplies are being drawn down faster than they are being replenished.
  • Higher concentrations of pollutants in aquifers make drinking water increasingly unsafe.
  • Aging water pipes and infrastructure are creating a heightened danger of sinkholes.
  • Using water for irrigation and fossil fuel extraction is increasing strains on the water supply, and raising food and energy prices.
  • Desalinization — increasingly being used to supplement fresh water needs — is extremely energy-intensive and expensive.


Read the full report in pdf format.