The Drinking Water Problem

This post is by Lisa Moore, Ph.D., a scientist in the Climate and Air program at Environmental Defense.

Yesterday's New York Times Magazine had an article aptly titled "The Future is Drying Up", about the threats that climate change and booming populations pose to precious water resources in western states. Usually when we think of water and climate change we think of rising sea levels, but climate change is also causing drops in drinking water supplies.

Most people living in the southwestern U.S. get their water from the Colorado River and California's Central Valley, both of which are fed by winter rains and spring snowmelt. Unfortunately, global warming is not only causing more winter precipitation to fall as rain versus snow, but also is causing the snow that does fall to melt earlier. As a result, in some areas reservoirs will fill earlier in the year and less water will be available over the summer.

The chart below shows changes in the timing of the spring snowmelt over the second half of the 20th century. In many areas, snowpack is starting to melt three weeks earlier than it did 50 years ago.

Western U.S. Snowmelt Timing
Source: USGS National Streamflow Information Program. Large circles show sites where changes are statistically significant at a 90 percent confidence level.

Scientists warn that, in some areas, mountain snowpack could disappear completely in the coming decades, and this has water managers concerned about future water supply.

In May, scientists reported that global warming is probably already shifting the entire American Southwest toward a drier climate. The author of the New York Times Magazine article asked one of the researchers whether their study meant that the Southwest is looking at a permanent drought. His striking reply: "You can't call it a drought anymore, because it's going over to a drier climate. No one says the Sahara is in drought."

So what can we do? Water conservation is an absolute must. Some water managers believe that with the right choices, we could meet most municipal, agricultural, and ecological water needs with the dwindling supply. But conservation has to go hand-in-hand with a concerted effort to decrease the greenhouse gas emissions that are driving climate change.

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One Comment

  1. Angelfrequency
    Posted October 24, 2007 at 2:11 pm | Permalink

    The wake up call has been here. The Earth is screaming for our attention and only some are listening. If I was a painter I would put the Illuminati on a big mountain of money and have their heads in clouds of CO2 emissions and the sea water level rising to drown them. The point, all these greedy people who say because of money things can't change?? Because why, the super rich will lose money?? But if it doesn't change, all the money in the world won't save any of us. All of us need to join together! Scream with the earth and tell the greedy rich people that are controlling everything to wake up! This isn't a problem that needs addressing in the future, the problem is already here!!NOW!!
    I don't think we can wait?? It's almost too late! We need to join together and change everything now! Wake up people!! Watch the Zeitgeist movies!!(Youtube.com) We can change everything, because everything is just what you believe!! Believe we are one, and together a miracle can happen! We need a miracle or things worse then anything that has happened in history before is coming!! Because history repeats itself until we realize what even science is proving with Quantum physics, we are one! We will survive only if we realize this!
    Some people are apathetic, but if everyone just does a little it will effect big change. Everyone must recycle. Everyone must demand that we stop being dependent on OIL!! This is a ridiculous primitive affair!! We have other modern resources available, and our lives depend on demanding we stop. Because of money and greed, we are going to lose the way we know life now?? Why? Because a small percentage of the people on this planet, the SUPER rich, don't want to give up their money? Don't they have enough??

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