Running Toward Empty: America’s Dwindling Water Supply

Sunday, January 10, 2010

by Mark Strassman, CBS REPORTS, January 8, 2010

mead (2) Americans are the world’s biggest water consumers. By 9 a.m., after showering, using the bathroom, brushing our teeth and having a cup of coffee, each of us typically has used more than 30 gallons of water. After doing the dishes – 12 gallons per load – running the washing machine – 43 gallons per load – and watering the lawn – 10 gallons per minute – by the time we go to bed, we’ve used up to 150 gallons.

By comparison, people in the U.K. use a quarter of that – 40 gallons of water a day. The Chinese average just 22 gallons per day. And in the poorest countries like Kenya, people use less than the minimum 13 gallons to cover basic needs.

Because Americans use so much, the report card shows water is an emerging crisis here. "Water is overtaking oil as our scarcest natural resource in the world," said Steven Solomon, author of the new book "Water: The Epic Struggle For Wealth, Power, and Civilization. And even we’re going to find, in the United States as well."

Scientists have never measured the exact amount of water available in the U.S., but they’re concerned enough that they’ve just launched a new government study to find out. Experts do agree: Demand is greater than supply. And 36 states face water shortages in the next three years.

Every day Arizona and parts of New Mexico use 300 million gallons more than they get in renewable supply. The extra comes from underground supplies which are not renewable.

The Problem
How much water’s underground? When could it run out? No one knows. And clearly that is a problem. Nowhere is America’s water crisis more evident than Lake Mead, just outside Las Vegas. The city has 2 million thirsty people – and gets 90 percent of its drinking water from the lake.

This area has grappled with a decade of drought. All last year it rained two inches, half its normal total.

"It’s the driest city in the United States; it’s definitely at the crisis level," said Pat Mulroy of the Southern Nevada Water Authority. When full, Lake Mead could cover all of Pennsylvania under a foot of water. But since 1998, the lake’s capacity has plunged more than half, down 5.6 trillion gallons, enough to supply the entire United States for about six months.

Locals call the white band on the canyon walls the "bathtub ring." It’s a mineral residue left behind by Lake Mead’s sinking water. It’s more than 130 feet high all around the lake. It’s a reminder how deep the water problem really is. [Read rest of story]

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Water: Our Most Precious Resource: by Marc Devilliers. This highly readable report on the looming global water crisis is amazingly informative on water issues around the world from China to Texas.