Report Examines Water Risk Associated with Global Warming

The Natural Resource Defense Council (NRDC) said global warming has placed more than 1,100 counties -- a third of all counties in the Lower 48 States -- at higher risk of water shortages by mid-century and more than 400 of them will be at extremely high risk.

Sep 1st, 2010

By Patrick Crow, Washington Correspondent

The Natural Resource Defense Council (NRDC) said global warming has placed more than 1,100 counties -- a third of all counties in the Lower 48 States -- at higher risk of water shortages by mid-century and more than 400 of them will be at extremely high risk.

Tetra Tech drafted the report for NRDC using data and climate projections that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change had used to evaluate withdrawals related to renewable water supply.

The study found that parts of 14 states face an extreme or high risk to water sustainability, or are likely to see limitations on water availability, as demand exceeds supply by 2050. The states were Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Florida, Idaho, Kansas, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Texas.

"This analysis shows climate change will take a serious toll on water supplies throughout the country in the coming decades. Water shortages can strangle economic development and agricultural production," said Dan Lashof, director of the Climate Center at NRDC.

"Water management and climate change adaptation plans will be essential to lessen the impacts, but they cannot be expected to counter the effects of a warming climate. The only way to truly manage the risks exposed by this report is for Congress to pass meaningful legislation that cuts global warming pollution," he said.

The report predicted that water withdrawal would grow by 25% in many areas, including the arid Arizona/New Mexico region, populated areas in the South Atlantic states, Florida, the Mississippi River basin, and Washington, D.C. and its surrounding regions.

The report said water sustainability is at extreme risk in the Great Plains and Southwest. In some arid or agricultural regions, water withdrawal is greater than 100% of the available precipitation and is already used in quantities that exceed supply.

Meanwhile, Western Resource Advocates also issued a report urging Congress to pass climate change legislation that would secure reliable water supplies in the West.

It said transitioning from forms of energy that emit greenhouse gases could save water. It said power plants in Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, and Utah use enough water to meet the combined demands of Denver, Phoenix, and Albuquerque.

Water Legislation

Water groups are promoting several bills recently introduced in Congress.

The National Association of Clean Water Agencies (NACWA) and American Rivers applauded a bill by Sens. Tom Udall (D-N.M.) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) to increase green infrastructure in stormwater management.

The bill would require the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to provide resources for the planning and construction of green infrastructure projects.

NACWA said EPA has estimated the nation will need $42.3 billion in stormwater management investments over the next 20 years, a total that will increase after pending stormwater regulations are completed.

NACWA also endorsed a House bill by Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), to require federal agencies to pay fees levied by local utilities for stormwater management services. Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) earlier filed a similar legislation in that chamber. The General Services Administration has declared that federal facilities in Washington, D.C., are not liable for charges levied by the local municipal sewer authority. The bills state that fees for the control and abatement of water pollution, including stormwater management fees, are not an unconstitutional tax on the federal government and thus are payable.

The Water Infrastructure Network is supporting a bill introduced by Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) to create a dedicated water trust fund, similar to the highway trust fund, to provide reliable funding for water projects.

WIN said the legislation would address a $300-500 billion water infrastructure funding gap reported by EPA and the Government Accountability Office. WIN said that each $1 billion spent on wastewater infrastructure would create 35,000 jobs.

Fiscal Crisis

A trio of municipal groups has reported that local governments are facing a fiscal crisis that will force significant cuts in public services and job losses approaching 500,000.

The National League of Cities, the U.S. Conference of Mayors, and the National Association of Counties conducted the survey of local government spending projections.

The three groups said local governments would continue to cut services over the next 18 months as they attempt to balance their budgets in response to the on-going economic crisis. The trio said most of the cuts would be in public safety, public works, public health, and social services.

NLC President Ron Loveridge said, "For local governments, unemployment and foreclosures resulting from the Great Recession translate into too few revenues making it increasingly difficult to fund or satisfactorily maintain many basic services -- not only parks, libraries, and public works projects but also public safety, police and fire services."

Loveridge, who is the Mayor of Riverside, Calif., said, "Cities are not only the engines of their local communities, they are also the backbone of their regional economies, where investments in infrastructure and services provide a platform for private sector investment and growth."

The three municipal groups urged Congress to pass a pending bill, the Local Jobs for America Act, which they said could help stabilize local economies. The trio said the national economy would not recover as long as unemployment remains high and the ability of local governments to respond to the needs of their residents is hindered.

In other Washington news:

  • EPA asked small businesses and municipalities to nominate representatives to provide input on a proposed stormwater rule. The rule would focus on stormwater discharges from developed sites, such as subdivisions, roadways, industrial facilities, and commercial buildings or shopping centers.
  • The National Association of Water Companies and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce have launched a program, "Water is Your Business," to educate public leaders, businesses, and citizens on the importance of water infrastructure to the health and the economic vitality of their communities.
  • The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation announced $12.8 million in grants to help local government entities build projects to save water, increase energy efficiency and improve environmental conditions while addressing water demand in the West.
  • EPA said the Town of North Providence, R.I. would pay a $15,000 penalty and spend $86,000 more to install a sewer line and to replace faulty private sewers in the Warren Street neighborhood.
  • The agency has proposed penalties ranging from $22,000 to $32,000 for 10 wastewater treatment plants operated by nine Pennsylvania municipalities. EPA said the plants failed to periodically reevaluate their industrial pretreatment programs, a violation of the Clean Water Act.
  • In an annual report, NRDC said water pollution caused 18,682 closing or advisory days at U.S. beaches last year. It said 7% of beach water samples taken in 2009 showed health standard violations, about the same as in the previous two years. WW

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