Water Wars

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This year the US has had one of the most severe droughts in its history across vast sections of the country, and some are predicting wars over water in the future.

low waterImage by University of Minnesota Sea Grant Program

The US is experiencing drought all across the southwest states, most famously in California where extreme dry conditions led to massive wildfires recently. The southwest isn’t the only place with a water shortage problem, however. The southeast is also dealing with drought conditions, with three states squabbling over the manmade lake that provides Atlanta with most of its water.

Lake Lanier in north Georgia provides the southern metropolis with most of its water, but other parts of Georgia, Alabama, and Florida also rely on the lake for water. The lake, which is 14 feet below normal water level, has raised concerns that Atlanta is consuming more than its fair share of water.

In the face of the recent drought, Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue declared a state of emergency in parts of the state, appealing to the federal government for help and imposing strict water restrictions. He also sued to force the Army Corps of Engineers to reduce the amount of water sent downstream to Florida and Alabama each day, resulting in angry responses from the governors of those two states.

The southwestern US is having its own struggles over water. Changes in climate, including 7 years of low rainfall in California, and a growing population is putting immense pressure on scarce water resources. There are fears of global warming and droughts turning the area into a dustbowl within 50 years.

One of the issues facing western states is that seven states- Arizona, California, Wyoming, Utah, Nevada, New Mexico, and Colorado, are all heavily dependent on one water source, the Colorado River. Tensions between the states have begun to rise as the Colorado’s flow has begun to reduce. Hydrologist Kevin Trenberth with for the National Centre for Atmospheric Research believes it “is a situation that is going to cause water wars”.

Western water allocation laws were drawn up during the expansion period and heavily favoured ranchers. Water is allocated to the first claimant. This has led to recent struggles as states attempt to claim water other states believe they have already claimed. The situation is not just a domestic one either.

A 1944 treaty between the US and Mexico guaranteed water to the US from Mexico, but drought and battles over immigration are causing tension between the two countries. The US claims Mexico owes it water. Mexico has accused the US of irresponsible population growth causing a strain on their water resources.

One thing is clear. Lifestyles in the western US must change. Nevada citizens have green lawns in the middle of the desert. The unnatural lifestyle is taxing water resources beyond acceptable limits. Pat Mulroy of the Southern Nevada Water Authority recently said “The people who move to the west today need to realize they’re moving into a desert. If they want to live in a desert, they have to adapt to a desert lifestyle.” When faced with such intense, and possibly permanent, drought, citizens must begin to take a look at what changes they can make in their lives to prevent the climate change and overuse of water which threatens to doom the region.

Source: Reuters and Guardian

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