Freshwater Scarcity
in the Western United States
by Merlin Hearn, October 2013

dry river rocksDry river bed

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Most of us here in the United States do not really feel the impact of freshwater scarcity. 

There might be a small rise in prices or maybe the government will sometimes dam a nearby river, diverting the flow towards the city.

But we have never really felt the hardships of scarcity. That might be changing soon. I do not want to scare anyone, but our rivers are starting to run dry.

The dry desert towns where people settled, which originally were simply way posts on the road to California, have grown larger and larger. 

The rivers nearby were diverted and used for irrigation and served as a means of clean water.

This served the towns that grew to maybe 20,000 to 100,000 people in size, but now the towns have far outgrown the environment.

City Governments Taking Action

City governments, burdened with this knowledge and the impending cost that water will hold, have started to take action. For example:

  1. In Las Vegas, the city is actually paying people $1.00 to $1.50 for every square foot of grass that they replace with desert landscape.
  2. In San Antonio, the city uses recycled water, treated with reverse osmosis, to handle 16 percent of the city’s water demand.
  3. In Santa Fe, city officials have made a law called “No Water, No Growth”. This states that all new developers have to show how much water a new commercial or residential building will use. If that water usage exceeds projected economic impact, it will be denied development. 

The Colorado River Has Almost Dried Out

Even though these cities and many other western cities have started taking action, the fact remains that they are in areas of physical water scarcity.

What this means is that there is not enough water in this region of the United States to provide for the amount of people.  

One river that has provided water for the majority of the western U.S., the Colorado River, has almost completely dried out.  The reason for this is that the river cannot regenerate fast enough. Too many cities are relying on it.

Some of the hardest-hit western cities that are trying to adapt to the drought include:

Denver, Colorado; Los Angeles and Santa Cruz, California; Las Vegas, Nevada; San Antonio and El Paso, Texas; Santa Fe, New Mexico; as well as Phoenix and Tucson, Arizona.

Even with the implementation of policies and actions to protect water as a resource, these cities will soon have to start importing water.

This is the future for most Americans living in the western United States, and sooner than later we will see pipes running across the plains. Not carrying oil, but carrying water.

Return from Freshwater Scarcity in U.S. to World Water Scarcity

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