Wednesday, December 04, 2019

Water scarcity increasing in the Eastern United States

Wall Street Journal map and charts based on U.S. Geological Survey data. Click on the map to enlarge it.
"Increasing competition for water is playing out across the Eastern U.S., a region more commonly associated with floods and hurricanes and one that was mostly a stranger, until recently, to the type of bitter interstate water dispute long seen in the West," Jesse Newman reports for The Wall Street Journal. "Eastern farmers’ rising thirst for water, together with urban growth and climate change, now is taxing water supplies and fueling legal fights that pit states against each other. The shift has exposed the region to changes in water supply occurring globally as swelling populations, surging industrial demand and warmer temperatures turn a resource seen as a natural right into a contested one."

"One striking marker of expanding stress," Newman wrotes, is the boundary between water-rich and water-poor areas. Geologist John Wesley Powell set it more than a century ago on the 100th meridian, which is the north-south border of Texas and Oklahoma. "According to a team of scientists, including those at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, the boundary has shifted about 140 miles eastward since 1979 because of warmer temperatures or reduced rainfall. The scientists predict the West’s drier climate will continue to push eastward and pressure water supplies for farms and cities alike."

The effects can be seen all over the East: "Burgeoning coastal populations have lowered water tables and dried up streams in Long Island," Newman reports. "Near Tampa, Fla., groundwater pumping has drawn saltwater into aquifers, drained lakes and triggered sinkholes. Decades of pumping by farmers and others have led to sharp declines in critical aquifers that flank the lower Mississippi River."

Meanwhile, Florida and Georgia are fighting in court over farms' and fisheries' use of water from the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint River basin. The case landed before the U.S. Supreme Court in 2013 but has not been heard. In early November the court appointed a special master (the second one for the case) to hear arguments, Newman reports. Georgia has talked about getting its slightly irregular border with Tennessee regularized so it can draw water from the Tennessee River, but the Volunteer state isn't volunteering.

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