This year’s drought in the US Western states is setting a 122-year record and the worst since it started in 2000.
Discover magazine says that about 90 to 100% of the West is going through a drought, with 57% facing extreme to exceptional drought.
The dry conditions led to extreme temperatures and wildfires. The wildfire’s smoke spread across the country, reaching Canada and Mexico.
The Economist reports that the drought is causing the Colorado River flow to dwindle and Lake Mead to dry up. The lake between Nevada and Arizona has become so depleted that the Bureau of Reclamation declared the first-ever water shortage for the Colorado River and Lake Mead on August 16th, the article says.
The declaration will trigger rounds of water cuts which will affect farmers first before it goes down to cities. The struggle for water supplies has led farmers to rely more on groundwater to survive the droughts.
The article mentions that 70% of the groundwater is used for agriculture worldwide. In the US, it is also the source of drinking water for half of its population. Excessive extraction of groundwater is not only prevalent in the US but also all over the world.
The USGS article, “Groundwater Decline and Depletion,” says that groundwater depletion due to sustained groundwater pumping is an ongoing problem in the US and worldwide, leading to long-term water-level declines.
The article enumerates the effects of groundwater depletion, such as lowering water tables, reduction in water in streams and lakes, and land subsidence. The lowering of water tables could increase the cost for the users as more energy will be required to lift the water to the surface.
Land subsidence could cause infrastructure and buildings to collapse, and groundwater depletion can cause saltwater intrusion.
All water in the ground is not fresh water and often intermingles with saltwater, and much of the very deep groundwater and below oceans is saline. When saltwater contamination happens, it could raise drinking water prices because it will become more expensive to pump water and filter it.
The states have begun legislating against over-extraction of groundwater as it starts to recognize the risks from it. Arizona passed a law in 1980 and California in 2014, the Economist article says.
Conserve energy future proposes the following solutions to avoid groundwater depletion, which includes:
- use less water for luxury purposes like outdoor decors and swimming pools;
- conserve water as much as possible for example, when washing cars and other daily uses of water;
- reduce the use of chemicals and dispose of it properly to avoid contamination of water supplies;
- additional research that could help abate groundwater depletion;
- finding alternative sources of water; and
- regulating the pumping of groundwater.
Water conservation and sustainable use of water resources will be an ongoing challenge for infrastructure asset managers and should be built into business-as-usual work programs.