News Feature | May 12, 2014

Underlying Water Stress Is Drying Up U.S. Communities

Sara Jerome

By Sara Jerome


Drought is afflicting many states this year, but the challenge is hardest for areas that suffer from underlying water stress. 

"A precipitous drop in rainfall is only part of a much broader story. Underlying water stress is one important piece of that complicated puzzle. When drought strikes where baseline water stress is high, it exacerbates regions' water woes," GreenBiz reported

Plainview, TX, is a prime example of this phenomenon. The city is near the Brazos River basin. 

"The Brazos ranked 13th most stressed among the world's largest rivers [according to the World Resources Institute]. The river's extremely high stress level means that 80 percent or more of its naturally available surface water supply is already being used by farms, homes, businesses and energy producers," the report said. 

In other words, Plainview has problems even when it rains. 

"All users in the basin compete for limited resources," the report said. "So even in non-drought conditions, Plainview and the surrounding area would have cause for concern." 

Technological solutions provide some relief. "While infrastructure and management interventions — such as water reuse systems — can help improve water access in the area, the fundamental reality is that all users are extremely vulnerable to changes in available supply, such as those that occur during drought," the report said. 

The World Resources Institute (WRI), a think tank, recently ranked the most water-stressed areas of the country. It also ranked which nations struggle the most with this problem. 

"Singapore, for example, has the highest water stress ranking (5.0). The country is densely populated and has no freshwater lakes or aquifers, and its demand for water far exceeds its naturally occurring supply," the report said. 

But Singapore handles the conditions well. 

"The country is consistently held up as an exceptional water manager. Singapore invests heavily in technology, international agreements, and responsible management, allowing it to meet its freshwater needs," the report said. 

Conservation is key in water-stressed regions, according to Andrew Maddocks, communications coordinator for WRI's Aqueduct project.

“Wherever drought and water stress overlap, reducing water use is an essential step toward long-term economic, social, and political stability,” Maddocks said to U.S. News & World Report.

Check out Water Online's Source Water Solution Center for more. 

Image credit: "pray for rain," grain © 2011, used under an Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic license:

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