At Least 36 U.S. States Face Water Shortage

At least 36 states are expected to face water shortages within the next five years, according to U.S. government estimates. Available freshwater supplies are dwindling across the country due to rising temperatures and droughts, while increasing sprawl, population and inefficient resource usage are leading to rising demand.

"Is it a crisis? If we don't do some decent water planning, it could be," said Jack Hoffbuhr, executive director of the American Water Works Association. Rising temperatures due to global warming have increased evaporation rates across the country and reduced the availability of important water sources. One of these is the Sierra Nevada snowpack, which supplies a significant portion of California's water. Across the West, similar trends are expected to reduce flows of the Colorado River, which supplies water for seven states.

Meanwhile, rising sea levels are expected to cause saltwater to infiltrate freshwater aquifers in coastal states, rendering that water unusable.

California uses about 23 trillion gallons of fresh water per year. The United States as a whole uses more than 148 trillion gallons for all purposes, including agriculture, manufacturing and other uses.

Other threatened regions include the Midwest, where the Great Lakes are shrinking, and upstate New York, where reservoir levels have fallen to record lows. Georgia's crisis has already arrived, and Florida's is expected to hit soon.

While Florida has no shortage of rainfall, widespread draining and paving of the region's natural wetlands has left the water unable to drain back into the soil. As a consequence, the state is forced to flush millions of gallons of water into the ocean per year to avert floods. The state's environmental chief, Michael Sole, has asked the Florida legislature to increase the use of reclaimed wastewater. Other states are encouraging measures such as desalinization, but it is widely accepted that conservation is the cheapest alternative.

Even with such measures, the forecast is not expected to improve. "Unfortunately, there's just not going to be any more cheap water," said Randy Brown, utilities director for Pompano Beach, Fla.

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