Where is the Water?

by Grace Gilheany on March 27, 2014

 

Water is one of our most precious resources. We use water for agriculture, energy, industry, recreation, drinking, bathing, cooking, and countless other things. As a developed country, we don’t often think that we may need to worry about the amount of water we use. Unfortunately, some areas of the United States are currently facing extreme droughts. The western portion of our nation has been struggling with drought for the last three years, a fact that many people not from the area would know anything about. A drought is any prolonged period of abnormally low rainfall. There is a “United States Drought Monitor,” a website that allows you to see the problems of drought in a map. The site shows the severity of drought across the country, with shading showing areas from “abnormally dry” to “exceptional drought.” We would not exist without water, and every day a great portion of our nation struggles to obtain enough of this valuable resource to live.

 

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Distribution of water in this area has become a political, economic, and environmental battle. While some people want to use protected waters to grow the plants they haven’t been able to, or feed the cattle that are starving, conservationists argue that using these waters could create an even bigger issue, as rivers like the Colorado are already in trouble. Diminishing the water supplies in rivers and streams can possibly endanger and eliminate species of fish that are important to the area, and create an even worse drought. The Colorado River does not hold enough water to sustain all the things it is used for in any given year. The river sustains several states, such as New Mexico, Colorado, Arizona, Utah, Wyoming, California, and Nevada. With all of these states using water from the river, there is a great deal of competition over how much water is used by each state. A recent New York Times article by Michael Wines discusses the problems that farmers face with the lack of water. Many farmers are taking their claims to the courts, because they feel the states don’t have the right to put agriculture on the back burner in order o give water to cities and people. Regulating water use is really difficult, as “claims” to natural resources can go back decades and centuries, and if too much water is used from the upper parts of the river, there is less for the areas fed by the lower part of the river. As water levels get lower, states try to ship water to other places or argue to tap groundwater. Both of these actions can have severe consequences on the places that are supposed to be fed by that water, and it is difficult to find a solution that balances everyone’s needs.

One of the most serious consequences of drought is the effect on air pollution. What people don’t often realize is that precipitation cleans the air. The pollution created by big cities like Los Angeles lingers in the air now, causing homeowners and citizens to breathe in potentially dangerous particles. San Joaquin Valley is hit particularly hard by this air pollution, and most of the winter the levels of particulate matter in the air breached federal limits. That amount of air pollution requires children play inside at school, homeowners are not allowed to burn wood in their fireplaces, and even healthy people are at risk of developing illnesses.

So where is the water? This lack of precipitation is a direct result of our global climate change problem. If we continue to use our environment irresponsibly, we wont have an environment left to worry about. Unfortunately, we don’t have a choice: we need water to live. Responsible water consumption is the first step in changing a dangerous pattern of behavior, and we can begin to do so today by being more conscious of our consumption.

 

Nagourney, Adam, and Ian Lovett. “Severe Drought Has U.S. West Fearing Worst.” The New York Times, February 1, 2014. http://www.nytimes.com/2014/02/02/us/severe-drought-has-us-west-fearing-worst.html.

 


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