Widgetized Section

Go to Admin » Appearance » Widgets » and move Gabfire Widget: Social into that MastheadOverlay zone

A Looming Water Crisis

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Tyler Sova
October 24, 2022

A sacred resource. The most important resource on the planet, and the very foundation of life. Its apparent abundance has led to a misunderstanding of water resources. There is a looming multi-faceted crisis—with each implication more disturbing than the next. First, access to clean drinking water is becoming a serious issue in part of the United States. Rare cases like the Flint, Michigan water crisis highlight the grave consequences of government error and arrogance, but an increasingly common issue is flood water contaminating drinking water. Second, access to any water is becoming a serious issue in the United States. Historic drought, low water reserves and overuse are crippling water sources and forcing the government to deal with a potentially impossible crisis.

Where Do We Get Water?

Most fresh water comes from the surface—this is rain and snow that falls, accumulates and feeds streams, rivers, anywhere that water accumulates. The rest comes from surface water that seeps deep into the ground and is extracted via wells or natural spring. Historic drought mixed with rapid growth are putting Western cities at risk. Parts of Utah are especially vulnerable. 40 million people in Western U.S. rely on the Colorado river, which is currently at historic lows. This has led to water restrictions all over Utah. Residents are now encouraged to limit water use, golf courses are limited and homeowners are encouraged to rip up their lawns to be replaced with gravel. Mayor Michele Randall of St. George, Utah says that water shortage keeps her up at night. Thirty percent of their economy is building from growth, and these restrictions will stop that growth in its tracks. Poor management of water has residents scared and the economy teetering. St. George is a salient example of the hard choices that arise when water levels are threatened.

Fresh water and waterways are not just for drinking or used in production but are also major “highways” for commercial vessels and goods. The Mississippi River is a major supply chain asset for the United States. The current levels are the lowest they’ve been in three decades. Prices to ship goods have more than doubled, and ships increasingly are being grounded or stopped due to low water levels. While October is usually a low water time for the Mississippi, the current levels haven’t been seen since 1988. Low water levels at important tributaries such as the Ohio river only exacerbates the issue. “America is going to shut down if we shut down,” said Mike Ellis, chief executive of Indiana-based American Commercial Barge Line LLC.

Flood Contamination

Old and outdated infrastructure faced with larger natural disasters, due to climate change, are wreaking havoc over the United States. 25,000 people were without water for weeks in Kentucky after severe flooding. More flooding destroyed aged infrastructure in Jackson, Mississippi, leaving 150,000 without drinkable water. The infrastructure issue is a money issue. Nationally, it will cost billions to upgrade water systems. Locally, it can be difficult or near impossible to raise the funding needed for upgraded systems. Poorer areas, like Jackson, have a smaller tax base and even less ability to raise funds. Mississippi has been provided with emergency Federal money of $75 million, with more than $429 million becoming available. These figures are only for upgrading current infrastructure and do not account for emergency cleanup, repairs and upgrades needed because of natural disasters such as flooding or a hurricane. Flooding is expected to happen at ten times the current rate by 2050. This issue will become tragically more common if quick steps are not taken to update infrastructure and create emergency flood plans. 

Next Steps

The first line of defense the government has at its disposal are water restrictions on residents and businesses. Deep restrictions on plant watering, golf course watering and general lawn care are most important. Making residents aware of the water shortage and providing reasonable ways they can help preserve water is a useful short-term solution. Long-term solutions include protecting current groundwater and aquifers from overuse and pollution. Water recycling and backup storage of water for use in case of serious drought or floods that contaminate current potable water. Conservation of current water sources remains the best tool against water shortage. If, or when, conservation fails, new technology will need to make up for gaps. Water infrastructure has lagged and is in desperate need of upgrades. Recent natural disasters have highlighted the immediate carnage and long-term damage, especially to drinking water, that they can cause. The best defense is preparation—parabellum.

Author: Tyler Sova is a current Federal employee for GSA. He received his MPA in 2017 and is a member of the Keystone State Chapter of ASPA. He can be reached at [email protected].

1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (1 votes, average: 5.00 out of 5)

One Response to A Looming Water Crisis

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *