The 10 Largest American Cities That Are Running Out Of Water

 Is your city on this list? Mine is (Atlanta).

 10. Orlando, FL

Major Water Supply: Florida Aquifer                                                                                                                                                                                                            Population (U.S. rank): 235,860 (80th)

Population Growth Rate: 26.8% since 2000

Average annual rainfall: 48.35 in.

North-central Florida, especially Orange County where Orlando is located, has experienced frequent droughts in the last decade. As a consequence, the area has implemented extreme conservation measures, including aggressive water-rationing policies and lawn-watering bans. After the drought and resulting wildfires subsided, however, Orlando faced another problem. As of 2013, Orlando will no longer be able to increase the rate at which it uses water from the Floridan aquifer, the city’s main source of fresh water supply. This presents a major problem for city officials: how does the limited water supply continue to meet demand for one of the fastest-growing regions in the state? It is estimated that water usage in the Orlando area will increase from 526 million gallons per day from 1995 to 866 million in 2020. On the city website, the mayor is quoted, saying: “Orlando Utilities Commission water usage trends show Orlando water demand exceeding the supply by approximately 2014 if no action is taken.” There are plans in the works to tap the St. John’s river for irrigation, and eventually drinking water. Many, however, are skeptical that even this will be enough to meet Orlando’s growing demand.

Lake Lanier, contested source of Atlanta's drinking water

9. Atlanta, GA

Major Water Supply: Lake Lanier, GA

Population (U.S. rank): 540,922 (33rd)

Population Growth Rate: 29.9% since 2009

Average annual rainfall: 50.2 in.

Between 2007 and 2008, the southeast experienced a major drought, which depleted the region’s major water supplies. No city in the south suffered more than Atlanta, the second-fastest-growing metropolitan area in the last eight years. The crisis began when the Army Corps of Engineers released more than 20 billion gallons of water from Lake Lanier, the city’s primary source of water. Continued poor rainfall brought the lake to its lowest recorded levels. At one point, city officials reported there was only three months left of stored fresh water to supply Atlanta. The drought eventually subsided and consistent rain returned the lake to less dangerous levels. However, Atlanta may continue to be at risk, as the lake is the site of an ongoing legal conflict between Georgia, Alabama, and Florida, all of which rely on the reservoir for fresh water. Last year, a federal judge declared Atlanta’s withdrawals from the lake illegal, and if the ruling stands, the city will lose roughly 40% of its water supply by 2012.  

8.Tuscon, AZ                                                                                                                                                                                                                   Major Water Supply: local ground water

Population (U.S. rank): 543,000 (32nd)

Population Growth Rate: 20% since 2000

Average Annual Rainfall: 12.17 in.

 The NRDC study rates Pima county, Arizona, where Tuscon is located, as an area with extreme risk of water shortage. The city is in the Sonoran desert, an extremely arid region which receives less than 12 inches of rainfall each year. Currently, the Tucson region uses about 350,000 acre-feet of water per year.  At this rate, Tucson’s groundwater supply, which now provides the majority of the city’s water, has a very limited life span. In addition to this, the city is currently bringing in 314,000 acre-feet per year from the Colorado River under the Central Arizona Project. However, Tuscon is growing rapidly, adding more than 20,000 people  since 2000. This, combined with the political uncertainty of the Central Arizona Project allocation, places Tucson at extreme risk for future water shortages.

7. Las Vegas, NV                                                  

Major Water Supply: Lake Mead/Colorado River

Population (U.S. rank): 567,000 (28th)

Population Growth Rate: 18.6% since 2000

Average Annual Rainfall: 4.5 in.

In the middle of the Mojave Desert, with an annual precipitation rate of only 10 cm, Las Vegas must rely on distant sources for its fresh water. The city’s main source is Lake Mead, which supplies 85% of the water used in the Las Vegas Valley. Unfortunately, the lake is 59% empty and is approaching its first water shortage ever. In addition to Las Vegas, it would affect other areas of Nevada and Arizona.  Moreover, it could potentially stop the Hoover dam from producing electricity – as soon as 2013. This would affect many big California cities that receive hydro-electric power through the dam.

6. Fort Worth, TX                                                                                                                                                                                                           Major Water Supply: multiple

Population (U.S. rank): 727,577 (17th)

Population Growth Rate: 36.1% since 2000

Average annual rainfall: 34.01 inches

As Fort Worth continues to grow (its population is expected to hit 4.3 million by 2060), the amount of water demand has continued to exceed the amount of water available through local supply.  As a result, the city, which is in Tarrant County, must rely on storage water, making the system much more exposed to the worst effects of prolonged drought. To remedy this problem, the Tarrant Regional Water District is trying to bring in more water from Oklahoma’s Red River. Oklahoma, wishing to preserve  its water sources, limits interstate water sales. Fort Worth has countered with a lawsuit, which is pending in the U.S. Court of Appeals.

5. San Fransisco Bay Area, CA     

 Major Water Supply: various, including Lake Hetch Hetchy

Population (U.S. rank): San Fransisco: 815,359 (12th), Oakland: 409,189 (44th), San Jose: 964,695 (10th)

Population Growth Rate: 20% since 2000

Average annual rainfall: 20.4 in.

 Much like the southeast in the early 2000’s, California has experienced intermittent droughts that have brought the area’s water supply to the brink of disaster. After several years of drought between 2005 and 2007, the Bay Area, which represents more that 3.7 million people, was forced to adopt aggressive water usage restrictions. Legal battles ensued between San Fransisco area legislators and those in the Sacramento delta who believed they deserved bay area water from major sources, like Lake Hetch Hetchy. According to the NRDC and CERES studies, the San Fransisco Bay area, including adjacent cities San Jose and Oakland, are “very likely” to experience a severe crisis as a result of water shortage within the next 50 years.

4. San Antonio, Texas                               

Major Water Supply: various ground water sources

Population (U.S. rank): 1,373,668 (7th)

Population Growth Rate: 20% since 2000

Average annual rainfall: 30.24 in.

Bexar County, Texas, where San Antonio is located, possesses the highest rating given by the Natural Resources Defense Council with regards to water sustainability. This means that the area is at extremely high risk for water demand exceeding supply by 2050 if no major systematic changes are made.  As most surface water from lakes and rivers in Texas have already been claimed by varying districts across Texas, most counties are now looking at groundwater to meet future demand.  San Antonio has attempted to secure water from a number of Texas groundwater conservation districts. Due to legal obstacles,this has proven to be difficult.  Today, many experts, including members of the Texas Water Development Board, recommend undertaking a major project to ensure future sustainability, such as a desalination plant on the Gulf Coast.

3. Phoenix, AZ                                                                                                                                                                                                                 Major Water Supply: Colorado River Basin

Population (U.S. rank): 1,593,659 (5th)

Population Growth Rate: 21.2% since 2000

Average annual rainfall: 8.3 in.

Like many of the other western cities on this list, Phoenix is extremely dependent on water imported from the Colorado River. This is because nearly half of the water the city’s residents use comes from this significant source.  As the Colorado River Basin enters the eleventh year of its drought, the city’s reliance on the river may soon become a serious problem.  If the drought continues, water deliveries to Arizona could potentially be cut back. To keep up a sufficient water supply, Phoenix is adopting an aggressive campaign to recycle water, replenish groundwater, and try to dissuade over-consumption. Time will tell if it these measures will be enough.

2. Houston, TX                           

 Major Water Supply: Jasper Aquifer, Lake Houston, Lake Conroe

Population (U.S. rank): 2,257,926 (4th)

Population Growth Rate: 15.6%

Average annual rainfall: 53.34 inches

Throughout most of its history, the city of Houston primarily drew water from the Jasper Aquifer, located along the southeastern coast of Texas. Over the last 30 years, the city began to suffer from dramatic rises in sea level of nearly an inch a year. Geologists eventually realized that the cause was Houston’s withdrawal of fresh water from the aquifer located under the city. This discovery forced city officials to use nearby Lake Houston and Lake Conroe for municipal water instead of the aquifer. Since 2000, Houston has been the fifth-fastest-growing city in the country, and its presence in an area with high drought likelihood makes it an immediate risk for serious water shortages.

 1. Los Angeles, CA                                                       

Major Water Supply: Colorado River Basin

Population (U.S. rank): 3,831,868 (2nd)

Population Growth Rate: 3.7%

Average annual rainfall: 14.77 in.

In the 1980’s, Los Angeles suffered a major crisis when the city was forced to stop using 40% of its drinking water due to industrial runoff contamination. Like Las Vegas, the city now relies on importing water from the Colorado river via hundreds of miles of aqueducts. The Colorado may only be a temporary solution, however, as the fastest growing city in the country continues to increase its demand at an unsustainable rate. In its utility risk rating, CERES gave the Los Angeles Department of Water & Power the highest likelihood of risk among the cities it assessed. That list included Atlanta and the Ft. Worth Area. On top of this, The Hoover Dam, which is the main source of electricity for LA and much of the greater southwest, is also producing at a lower rate than it has historically.  Some scientists suspect this drop-off will continue to a point where its electricity production is too small to sustain the dam economically.  Los Angeles, even if the dam doesn’t cease production in 2013, as some predict, it still faces serious water shortages.

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About Jim Jewell

I am a writer and consultant on faith and public life, active for many years in management and communications in the evangelical community. I now work as the director of the nonprofit practice at The Valcort Group (www.valcort.com). Everything on this blog, however, is my personal opinion and is not read or approved before it is posted. Opinions, conclusions and other information expressed here do not necessarily reflect the views of Valcort.
This entry was posted in Creation Care, Environment, Jim Jewell and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to The 10 Largest American Cities That Are Running Out Of Water

  1. Zimbabwean Zombee says:

    Arizona is truly underwater because of a lack of it. Arizona is on the brink of disaster courtesy of the housing collapse.

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