Cities across the western half of the country are scrambling to stop that from happening.

Founded in 2007, the Water Utility Climate Alliance, or WUCA, is a network that brings together 10 of the nation’s largest municipal water providers.

“WUCA has been doing some really great work. What they’re getting at is trying to understand what the science behind climate change is really telling us,” Betsy Otto, the director of the Aqueduct project at the World Resources Institute (WRI), a think tank here, told IPS.

“But the biggest problem with climate change estimates is that they only give us the global picture. The real challenge is then to downscale them to the local level and understand them.”

In Seattle, a co-chair of the WUCA network, city officials realized that their water demand estimates were far too aggressive, and did not reflect the city’s real needs.

“By carefully looking at the data, they suddenly realized they needed much less water than the estimates suggested,” Otto says. “So they started to bring their demand down, by simply saving water.”

In part, this achievement comes from simple strategies such as the city’s decision to distribute free energy-saving showerheads to all single-family homes, or the creation of water audits helping home- and business-owners understand how they can bring down their water waste.

The city of Seattle now claims to have enough water for the next 30 years.

“Of course, these measures need money in order for them to go through,” Otto notes. “But they’re still much cheaper than having to build water reservoirs.”

Accepting limits

The broader challenge, advocates say, is to get other areas with critical current or future water-shortage problems to come up with their own plans. One of the most significant obstacles in this regard across the country may simply be the general approach to water supply.

“Water scarcity increases commodity prices,” John Mesko, a Minnesota farmer who raises grass-fed beef, told IPS. “Farmers make more and this gives them the push to invest in irrigation facilities. So it’s easy to think ‘I can afford to install irrigation, I make profits.’ That’s fine. But it’s just a quick fix. We need to prepare for the long haul.”

Indeed, unlike with surface water, there are almost no regulations on groundwater pumping. One way would be for federal regulations to put caps on allocations, or distribute permits as for surface water use.

“If you go to the western U.S., people are still in that mindset of trying to withdraw as much water as they can, as long as they can pump faster than their neighbor,” Otto warns. “They continue to think that there are simply no limits on how much you can withdraw.”

*With additional reporting by Aarthi Gunnupuri in New York.

© 2013 IPS North America

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Recent Comments