Droughts Threaten National Water Resources
October 30, 2007
High temperatures and increased droughts have led to a water shortage that is putting strains on agriculture and drinking water production across the nation.
p. Water shortages in Virginia have led Gov. Tim Kaine to declare the commonwealth in a state of agricultural disaster and to enact restrictions such as open air burning bans across the state in order to mitigate the adverse effects of the water deficit.
p. Virginia is suffering from abnormally dry conditions. Around 85 percent of the state, including Williamsburg, is experiencing a severe drought, while 5 percent of the state, mostly in extreme southwestern Virginia, is experiencing an exceptional drought.
The recent rain brought a much-needed reprieve from the major water deficit but ultimately did not fix the shortage.
p. Most rivers in Virginia are now flowing normally due to the rain, but there are several that are still experiencing low flow. The Appomattox River near Matoaca, Va., and the North Fork of the Shenandoah River near Cootes Store and Strasburg, Va. are still in low-flow conditions, despite the rain.
p. Forest fires in Virginia are also on the rise due to the unusually dry and hot conditions.
p. According to the Virginia Department of Forestry, there have been 79 fires that have burned 704 acres since Oct. 15. Two homes and three structures were damaged in these fires.
p. Virginia forests range from 300 to 500 on the Keetch-Byram Drought Index, which is a measure of the dryness of the soil and of duff layers. Values of 200 to 400 indicate the tendency for fires to ignite and spread relatively easily, but large logs and debris are unable to burn in these values. Values of 400 to 600 indicate the potential for larger debris to burn. These fires can smolder and burn for several days, making attempts to control them more difficult.
p. Another aspect of the water shortages facing Virginia is in the freshwater inflow into the Chesapeake Bay by tributary rivers.
September’s average freshwater inflow was around 14,500 cubic feet per second, which is about 41 percent less than the 35,800 cubic feet per second that is the usual average. This is the 16th lowest inflow on record since the first measurements were taken in 1937.
p. Droughts have had major impacts on water supplies in rural and agricultural areas. The United States Department of Agriculture declared 78 counties and 34 cities in Virginia natural disaster areas due to high temperatures and drought.
p. The city of Richmond, Albemarle County — which surrounds Charlottesville — and Loudon and Fairfax Counties in Northern Virginia have all experienced the drought’s negative impacts, including fires and mandatory water restrictions.
p. The water deficit is not only causing problems in the state, but is also wreaking havoc across the United States, including Georgia, Florida, New York and New Mexico.
p. The federal government predicts that within the next five years, 36 states will have water shortages due to increased temperatures, drought, population and urban sprawl, waste and excess of current water resources.
p. The United States Geological Survey estimated that in the year 2000, the U.S. used 148 trillion gallons of water, which equates to around 500,000 gallons of water per person.
p. Coastal states face future water resource problems due to increased populations and depleting water levels resulting from the overuse of resources and saltwater intrusion into fresh groundwater.
p. The water crisis is occurring globally as well, with the continents of Australia, Asia and Africa experiencing current water shortages and droughts.
p. The International Panel on Climate Change suggests that by the year 2050, up to 2 billion people could face major water shortages.
p. Regardless of whether or not future water shortages will be as drastic as projected, one thing is sure: there is not enough freshwater on Earth to supply water limitlessly to a growing global population. Current and future water policy will have to center around conservation and alternative methods of water extraction to ensure that the world will have adequate water supplies.