We were taught in school that water comprises 71% of the earth’s surface, and, as such, there is a virtually unlimited supply of water.
Here’s the truth, though: While 71% of the earth’s surface is water, the vast majority of it is undrinkable.
According to the Bureau of Reclamation California – Great Basin, “97% of the earth's water is found in the oceans (too salty for drinking, growing crops, and most industrial uses except cooling). […] 3% of the earth's water is fresh.”
And that 3% is running low. Dangerously low.
Don’t misunderstand this statistic and think it only applies to impoverished countries. Water scarcity is becoming a major problem in the Western United States, and it will affect the entire country.
That’s why it is important to understand why America is running out of water and what you can do to prepare.
What Water Shortage in America Looks Like Today
Scientists at Harvard University believe, “By 2071, nearly half of the 204 fresh water basins in the United States may not be able to meet the monthly water demand.”
Fresh water basins provide the water Americans use to drink, cook, and clean.
National Geographic further explains, “Shortages won’t affect only the regions we’d expect to be dry: with as many as 96 out of 204 basins in trouble, water shortages would impact most of the U.S., including the central and southern Great Plains, the Southwest, and central Rocky Mountain states, as well as parts of California, the South, and the Midwest.”
Currently, the western United States is in a megadrought and is seeing the driest 22-year period in the region since the year 800. It’s affecting the Hoover Dam, Colorado River, and Lake Mead.
These water sources provide water for millions of Americans, farmlands, and electrical plants. And they are lower than ever before.
And sure enough, a short time after writing that article, the federal government declared the first water shortage on the Colorado River—ever.
It’s so bad, there is talk of diverting the Mississippi or Missouri Rivers to help feed the Colorado River basin. The issue – aside from the money it would cost to build the infrastructure for a project like this – is that Missouri farmers are seeing lower than normal rainfall this year.
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The Reasons We Are Facing a Water Shortage
In addition to the megadrought, scientists believe other factors are contributing to water scarcity.
First, climate changes are to blame.
National Geographic explains, “While the wettest regions of the U.S. are getting wetter, the drier areas are getting drier, and there are some seasonal shifts in water patterns—rising temperatures mean the snowmelt that feeds many rivers begins and ends earlier, contributing to summer water shortages.”
But, that isn’t the only cause of water scarcity.
The other reason is the rising population.
As the population swells, there will be more demand for water. The problem is that this higher demand is occurring at a time when there is less water.
This is why America has already started searching for more groundwater sources. But, that doesn’t solve the problem.
Digging new wells is costly, and it leads to poor water quality.
How Water Shortages Affect Water Quality
The good news is that scientists are hard at work trying to find a way to avoid the worst-case scenario – complete water scarcity.
Unfortunately, water shortages will lead to problems with water quality in the meantime (or possibly forever).
For example, Bloomberg reports, “Though uncertainty remains about how the drought will affect drinking water quality, some water lawyers fear it could create a situation similar to the 2014 lead contamination crisis in Flint, Mich. that triggered a public health state of emergency.”
Here are a few ways water shortages can lead to poor water quality:
Water Scarcity – The worst thing that could affect our water would be water scarcity. If you don’t have access to clean water, water quality doesn’t matter. Plus, it leads to even worse problems. UNICEF claims that, in places with very limited water resources, there is increased competition and conflict for water.
Saltwater Intrusion – According to UNICEF, “Rising sea levels are causing fresh water to become salty, compromising the water resources millions of people rely on.” South Florida is already experiencing this issue. National Geographic claims, “South Florida’s freshwater aquifers are increasingly susceptible to saltwater intrusion due to over-extraction.” Saltwater is not safe for drinking. However, because of water scarcity issues, scientists are already looking for ways to extract salt from water.
Heat-Related Pathogens – A 2014 U.S. Geologic Study found, “Heat leads to algae blooms in reservoirs and possible cyanotoxins in water supplies […]. Cyanotoxins can cause a range of health problems, from skin rashes to death.”
Other Contaminants – The 2014 study found other connections between drought and poor water quality. For example, “Some systems saw increases in nitrates, arsenic, and uranium during the last drought. […] Nitrates can cause blue baby syndrome, when infants’ blood can no longer carry sufficient oxygen. They often occur alongside fumigants, uranium, and other compounds relating to agriculture.”
Soot – Heat combined with drought leads to wildfires. Like a domino effect, these wildfires then affect water quality. Bloomberg explains, “Wildfires scorch watersheds, sending soot and other organic material downstream.” For example, large wildfires in 2020 in Fort Collins, Colorado, have led to concerns about water quality.
Here’s the message from the City of Fort Collins Utilities: “In 2020, the City’s water supplies were severely impacted by the Cameron Peak and East Troublesome wildfires. These two wildfires are considered the two largest in Colorado history, raising significant concerns about both the availability and quality of our future raw water supplies. Due to the scale and severity of the burn areas, impacts to our raw water supplies are expected to be long-term.”
What You Need to Do Today to Prepare for a Water Shortage Tomorrow
Now that you know the current water shortage in America has a domino effect that will impact the quality of the water across the country, it is time to start preparing.
While much of the problem is out of our hands, we can still be water prepared. If your community is experiencing a drought, you cannot trust your tap water to be safe. It may not even be available! Moreover, there is a real possibility that poor water quality may be an issue everywhere in America.
Water preparation begins with thinking about where and how you can get water. Do you live near a stream? Do you have water-giving plants, such as cacti? And don’t forget to check for these unusual places where you can find water in or around your home, like your toilet tank.
It is also wise to store water. However, you must make sure you store water safely. For example, if you store it in open containers, it may grow algae or bacteria. If you store bottled water, it is important to rotate it out according to the expiration date. This has more to do with the plastic than the water, but, when the plastic breaks down, it releases chemicals into the water.
Another way to be water ready is to start harvesting rainwater. Place a barrel or water tank by your gutter to collect rain runoff. You can also place buckets covered with clean white t-shirts (which will keep out debris and pests) in elevated positions to collect rainwater.
Additionally, prepare by purchasing a gravity-powered water filtration unit like the Alexapure Pure Water Filtration Systems, ensuring your family will always have access to clean drinking water even when the wells run dry.
Invest in a water filtration system before it’s too late, friends.