By Peter Chawaga
Levels for yet another iconic national waterway are dropping and this time, it’s demonstrating that drought has reached beyond the dry Southwest and into the nation’s capital.
“The Potomac River supplies drinking water to some 5 million people in the D.C. region, and right now, the river is running low,” DCist reported. “Water managers announced they may have to use water from backup reservoirs upstream — it would be the first time in more than a decade.”
With the flow dropping to about 665 million gallons per day in some parts of the river and the region drawing about 400 million gallons per day for its drinking water needs, levels are dangerously close to dipping below the minimum 100 gallons per day required by the river’s aquatic ecosystems. As a result, the Interstate Commission on the Potomac River Basin has decided to monitor the river more closely.
“The commission began conducting daily drought monitoring, the first step when there’s concern that water supply could run low,” according to DCist. “The commission may also ask drinking water suppliers to draw more of their water from other sources … Should dry conditions continue, water conservation measures may become necessary.”
After years of ongoing water scarcity in states like California, Arizona, and Colorado, national water managers have launched a score of innovative conservation programs and officials have pursued numerous regulatory changes to help. Now, as the problem stretches to new regions of the country, water systems like D.C.’s are being forced to adapt in kind. Soon, that could mean implementing a slew of changes.
“We try to stay on top of the forecasts, and keep our models humming so that we can anticipate what’s going to happen in the future,” explained Michael Nardolilli, the director of the interstate commission, according to WTOP. “Building more storage capacity by maybe acquiring a quarry that is at the end of its useful life, building more interconnectivity between the water suppliers, building a pipe down … to our region, even doing things like reverse osmosis to take the brackish water of the Potomac and make it drinkable.”
It looks like water managers, systems, and treatment professionals from all over the country will have to consider similar solutions soon enough.
To read more about how water systems across the country are adapting to low river flows, visit Water Online’s Water Scarcity Solutions Center.