2 Reports Call Water Shortages Serious, Widespread Threat

August 4, 2010

Two distinctly different organizations have recently announced findings agreeing that vast portions of the United States likely will be facing serious water problems in coming decades as climate change continues.

Sandia National Laboratories researchers have concluded that only California, Colorado, and the Pacific Northwest will come out ahead overall. Their review of the lower 48 states on a state-by-state basis indicated that all other states will have significant economic losses linked to water problems. At the national level, they estimate these problems will cost the economy about $1 trillion and 7 million jobs over the next 40 years.

They based their work on a range of scenarios developed by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's Fourth Assessment Report, in conjunction with various economic models that they say are well accepted.

A theme woven into their findings, which were published as an in-house report, is that residents of the threatened states may want to consider taking actions that create some kind of "insurance policy" covering this threat, much as individuals use health or car insurance to soften the blows of problems that have plausible odds of occurring.

The Natural Resources Defense Council also used a spectrum of IPCC scenarios, and looked at the impacts at both a county and state level. On the demand side, they calculated the water needs of various sectors of the economy based on business-as-usual growth projections. In a report released July 20, 2010, they found that about one-third of all counties in the lower 48 states face serious water threats, with 412 at extremely high risk and about 700 more at high risk. The threatened counties are widespread in the western half of the country, and scattered throughout the eastern half.

The report authors contend that the only way to address this problem is to take measures that slow down climate change, and adopt other practices that better manage water supply and demand on a local, state, and regional basis. In some areas, water demand already exceeds supply.