Study: More Than One in Three US Counties Face High or Extreme Risk of Water Shortages by 2050

Over the next few decades, US water resources are likely to be severely strained by the combined impacts of population growth, increases in power generation and climate change.

In fact, more than one in three of the 3,100+ counties in the US could face a "high" or "extreme" risk of water shortages by the middle of the 21st century, according to a new study in ACS's Journal of Environmental Science & Technology.

The research also found that seven out of ten of the US counties could face "some" risk of shortages of fresh water for drinking, farming and other uses.

The study, Projecting Water Withdrawal and Supply for Future Decades in the U.S. under Climate Change Scenarios, features a "water supply sustainability risk index" that includes water withdrawal, projected growth, susceptibility to drought, projected climate change and other factors in individual US counties for the year 2050. It also takes into account renewable water supply through precipitation using the most recent downscaled climate change projections and estimates future withdrawals for various human uses.

By using this water index, the research team was able to conclude that climate change could foster an "extreme" risk of water shortages that may develop in 412 counties in southern and southwestern states, as well as in southern Great Plains states.

"This is not intended as a prediction that water shortages will occur, but rather where they are more likely to occur, and where there might be greater pressure on public officials and water users to better characterize, and creatively manage demand and supply," lead researcher Sujoy B. Roy, Ph.D. said.

As I have noted before, water is one of our most important resources, and it is quickly becoming a significant business growth and development risk. Investors are beginning to take note, as it becomes more and more clear that sustainable water management is needed to mitigate business risks and help ensure access to sufficient quality and quantity of water supplies.

The work for this recent study was performed by Dr. Roy and colleagues at Tetra Tech Inc., The Nature Conservancy and Santa Clara University. The full report is available here.

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