Dec 16 2013

 

 

 

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Unless a major storm hits before the hit of the year, San Francisco will have its driest year in its history. Less than four inches of rain has fallen so far in 2013. Water will soon replace oil as the most important national resource. Internationally we are already on the verge of 'water wars' taking place around the globe.

Weather.com has picked the ten cities in the United States that stand a good possibility of running out of water. These cities could be impacted by climate change as much as some coastal cities are threaten by rising waters. Drought has become am increasingly critical problem in many sections of the United States.

Interestingly, with the exception of one (Lincoln), every city on the list is in the Sunbelt. Will we see the East Coast and Midwest cities flourish again in the future as people and jobs flock out of the Sunbelt because of the water crisis?

Here are the ten cities.

1. El Paso (Texas)

Sometimes called the "driest major city in Texas," El Paso has contested with drought and water shortages for decades, even as its population has grown from just over 130,000 in 1950 to more than 670,000 today (and more than 800,000 across the El Paso metropolitan area).

El Paso was ranked among the nation's most vulnerable cities in a 2012 University of Florida water availability survey, thanks largely to its arid location.

The city's drinking water comes mostly from groundwater and the Rio Grande that flows through the city, but in recent years it has begun experimenting with building a desalination plant to decontaminate brackish water pumped from underground, while it also uses treated waste water for crop irrigation and industrial uses.

2. San Jose (California)

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The home of technology giants Google, Apple, and Facebook (headquartered in nearby Palo Alto and Mountain View), this Northern California city is part of one of the most water-stressed areas anywhere in the U.S. Columbia University identifies it as one of the regions facing the highest potential for water shortages caused by multi-year droughts.

Exactly that scenario played out here during the record drought that stretched between 2005 and 2007. The drought forced local officials to adopt stringent water use restrictions for releases from the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, one of the state's most important sources of water.

3. Miami (Florida)

South Florida's largest city faces some of the nation's most dire threats to its fresh water supplies. Rising seas along the coastline are pushing salt water into its underground drinking water supplies, while its population growth hasn't stopped – rising from about 249,000 people in 1950 to more than 410,000 today, with more than 5.5 million scattered across the Miami metro area.

In addition to this long-term threat, the region also faces the shorter-term challenges of drought. While this year has brought much more plentiful rain to South Florida, just two years ago an intense drought left nearby West Palm Beach less than two months away from running out of water completely.

4. Lincoln (Nebraska)

Like much of the Plains and western states, Nebraska has been caught in the grip of searing drought over the past couple of years. Nearly every square mile of land statewide experienced what the U.S. Drought Monitor classifies as "extreme drought" in early 2013, with more than 76 percent of the state reeling under the even-higher classification of "exceptional drought."

That's why it's no surprise that state capital Lincoln, with a population of just over 265,000, faces severe water stress when its main water source, the Platte River, dries up as it did in 2012. This helped University of Florida researchers list it as the nation's third most vulnerable city in their 2012 water availability survey.

5. Salt Lake City (Utah)

Rising temperatures in the next 30 to 40 years could put severe strains on the future growth of Salt Lake City, according to a University of Colorado-Boulder study released in November. For every Fahrenheit degree of warming, the study's authors found, the Salt Lake City region could see its fresh water supplies drop by 1.8 to 6.5 percent.

Those supplies come from the creeks and streams that feed the city's thirst for drinking water, which could dry up several weeks earlier in the summer and fall than they do today, the study found. Warmer temperatures will mean more of the region's precipitation falls as rain instead of snow, which will lead to earlier runoff from the nearby Wasatch Mountains.

Local officials and water system planners will need to find new, higher-elevation sources of water or build more water storage, the study's authors noted. "Water emanating from our local Wasatch Mountains is the lifeblood of the Salt Lake Valley, and is vulnerable to the projected changes in climate," Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker said.

6. San Diego (California)

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A combination of low rainfall, low snowpack in the mountains, and dwindling supplies from the drought-stricken Colorado River threaten every one of the main sources of water for this Southern California city that's home to more than 1.3 million people.

With predictions of another dry winter this year, San Diego County Water Authority officials say they're prepared to meet the county's water needs through next summer, thanks to 25 water reservoirs that contain an "ample supply."

But should this year's drought continue into next year and the year after that, the situation becomes much more problematic.

"We built these assets to use them," Ken Weinberg, the authority's water resources director, told San Diego Magazine. "But if you start to see successive dry years and use that storage – that's where we're vulnerable."

7. Los Angeles (California)

With a population of more than 3.8 million inside its city limits, and some 16 million spread across its greater metropolitan area, Los Angeles routinely ranks among the nation's most water-stressed cities.

Though the city sees an average of nearly 15 inches of rain per year, that average masks the way in which its precipitation falls. One or two wet years are generally followed by seven to eight dry years, which means Los Angeles can see dry stretches that last for years on end.

Demand for water from the Colorado River Basin, where the city gets much of its water supply via hundreds of aqueducts, is projected to far outstrip supply in the coming decades thanks to drought, according to a federal study released at the end of last year.

By 2060, the study estimates water from the river will fall short of demand by more than 3 million acre-feet, about 5 times the amount of water Los Angeles consumes each year.

"They have painted a picture that is undeniable," Barry Nelson of the National Resources Defense Council said of the study. "The history of developing new water in the Colorado River Basin is over."

8. San Antonio (Texas)

San Antonio ranked as the number-one most water stressed city in the country in the University of Florida water availability survey, thanks to its population of some 1.6 million people today, up from just over 400,000 in the middle of the 20th century.

That explosive population growth has put severe stress on water supplies here, prompting the San Antonio Water System to reduce per-capita water usage through initiatives like "Plumbers to People," which provides up to two free water-efficient toilets to local residents with toilets installed before 1993.

"Our business model is to convince our customers to buy less of our product," San Antonio Water System president and CEO Robert Puente told NPR last May.

9. Las Vegas (Nevada)

Though the bursting of the housing bubble back in 2008 slowed its growth for a while, Las Vegas still ranks among the nation's fastest-growing cities and now boasts a population of nearly 600,000 in its city limits and more than 1.8 million spread across its metro area.

All that growth – the city was home to just over 40,000 people in the mid-1950s – has placed huge demands on its main water supply, the Colorado River Basin and Lake Mead. Because that river has experienced severe drought in recent years, local officials have been forced to build lower intake valves in the reservoir, to ensure the city's water supply isn't cut off.

10. Atlanta (Georgia)

Home to more than 3.4 million people, Georgia's capital city has been caught in a tug-of-war with Florida and Alabama in recent years over rights to the water that flows through the Chattahoochee River from its nearby reservoir, Lake Lanier.

Though years like 2013 keep it at bay – Atlanta had a much wetter-than-average summer, with rainfall amounts in June and July more than double the norm – drought is an ever-present threat to the more than 5 million people who live here. It was just last year that Lake Lanier dropped to its lowest levels in years, tying it with historic lows reached in 2009.

Why are low water levels at Lanier so troublesome? Because the city draws nearly two-thirds of its drinking water from the lake and the Chattahoochee River, which means that in times of extreme drought (like the one that lasted from 2007 to 2009), Atlanta really has nowhere else to turn for water.