U.S. cities less susceptible to water scarcity than previously thought

January 15, 2013

The past few years have seen powerful droughts across the U.S., with water shortages threatening crop production, shipping traffic, energy production, and groundwater stores. Water scarcity issues are particularly relevant for those living in cities, a demographic which now includes roughly 4 out of every 5 Americans.

Previous research has tallied average daily water needs, estimated at 600 liters (about 160 gallons) per person per day, and the availability of natural renewable water resources. The results suggested that up to 47 percent of the U.S. population is vulnerable to issues. In many cases, managers cope with natural variability through the use of infrastructure designed to pump, import, or store freshwater. Nationwide water resource assessments, however, overlook such infrastructure-based approaches to water management, instead assessing only water derived from local streamflow, runoff, or groundwater storage.

To more accurately assess the vulnerability of U.S. urban areas to , Padowski and Jawitz compiled publicly available records of water management resources for 225 cities across the country – those with populations of 100,000 or greater for which adequate records were available. When they included in their tallies both natural renewable water resources and the capacity to import, pump, and store water, the authors find that only 17 percent of the U.S. population – not 47 percent – is vulnerable to water scarcity issues. They find that when water management infrastructure resources were taken into consideration, every U.S. city studied could provide an annual mean of 600 liters (about 160 gallons) per person per day or greater, even in areas where the local availability of water is scarce.

The authors find, however, that some cities, such as Miami, Florida, appear more vulnerable to water scarcity under the new assessment. Though Miami receives a high volume of water, a lack of storage or import capacity suggests that it is less resilient to natural variability than cities with more robust infrastructures.

Explore further: Water: The forgotten crisis

More information: Water availability and vulnerability of 225 large cities in the United States, Water Resources Research, doi: 10.1029/2012WR012335 , 2012

Related Stories

Water: The forgotten crisis

July 10, 2008

This year, the world and, in particular, developing countries and the poor have been hit by both food and energy crises. As a consequence, prices for many staple foods have risen by up to 100%. When we examine the causes ...

Billion-plus people to lack water in 2050: study

March 28, 2011

More than one billion urban residents will face serious water shortages by 2050 as climate change worsens effects of urbanization, with Indian cities among the worst hit, a study said Monday.

New study of global freshwater scarcity

March 1, 2012

A new report published in the online journal PLoS ONE, analyzing water consumption in 405 river basins around the world, found that water scarcity impacts at least 2.7 billion people for at least one month each year.

Current water resources in Europe and Africa

March 14, 2012

A new assessment of available water resources, published today by the Joint Research Centre (JRC), reveals that large areas in Spain and Eastern Europe have on average less than 200 mm freshwater available every year while ...

Recommended for you

A cataclysmic event of a certain age

July 27, 2015

At the end of the Pleistocene period, approximately 12,800 years ago—give or take a few centuries—a cosmic impact triggered an abrupt cooling episode that earth scientists refer to as the Younger Dryas.

'Carbon sink' detected underneath world's deserts

July 28, 2015

The world's deserts may be storing some of the climate-changing carbon dioxide emitted by human activities, a new study suggests. Massive aquifers underneath deserts could hold more carbon than all the plants on land, according ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.