7 Causes of Water Scarcity in the United States

People are often surprised when they learn we have water scarcity issues in the United States. For example, Flint, Michigan, experienced water issues for over six years. In 2014 a change in water supply from Lake Huron and the Detroit River to the Flint River caused severe problems for residents of Flint, Michigan. High levels of lead leached into the water supply. Around 100,000 people were exposed to elevated lead levels. Residents found other ways to cook, clean and bathe because they did not have clean running water for years.

The Town of St. Joseph, Louisiana, has experienced water problems for years due to a poorly maintained and deteriorating water distribution system. It is recommended that residents use an alternative water source for personal consumption, ice making, brushing teeth, or food preparation and rinsing. The population of this town has been shrinking for the last 30 years.

Several small towns in the Central Valley of California (even after the rains this past winter) are experiencing dry wells and no running water. Rio Verde Foothills is in unincorporated Maricopa County in Arizona. Many residents have private wells, but about 500 residents rely on water hauled from Scottsdale, Arizona. Scottsdale cut the water supply off, and now residents are on their own for water for at least a couple of years. The mayor of Scottsdale, David Ortega, said, “Water is not a compassion game.” I couldn’t disagree more.

We will all have to make some sacrifices to solve water scarcity issues. The first step is to look below at seven common causes of water scarcity to learn how we can work together and prevent more of these issues from happening.

  1. Drought – Periods of prolonged dry weather reduce water availability specific to regions. The big challenge is today, an area can have plenty of water and, in just a couple of years of dry weather, be upside down with water. This is becoming more common and more challenging. If you want to learn about the causes of drought, you can read about it here.
  2. Population Growth – There are many great reasons to move to one of the Southwest states in the U.S. An abundance of water is not one of them. The big challenge here is that cities responsible for honest assessments of water supply are also responsible for attracting new residents and prosperity. There is a built-in conflict of interest.
  3. Climate Change – This goes hand in hand with drought and the changing rain patterns in the U.S. This past winter in California was an example of too much rain in too short of a period. Currently, there is no way to capture all the water that fell, and constructing water storage for these rogue water years is expensive and hard to get taxpayers to pay for during times of normal rain.
  4. Water Pollution – Industrial waste or agricultural runoff can impact areas quickly. Contaminates are a real issue, sometimes caused by companies and sometimes by individuals.
  5. Inefficient Water Use – Inefficient irrigation systems for agriculture and urban areas largely contribute to water scarcity issues. In the West, Agriculture uses around 80% of the water. Implementing smart irrigation and technology when that is readily available at a reasonable price will go a long way to help solve water scarcity issues.
  6. Aging Infrastructure – A Stanford University study in 2020 estimates that 20% to 50% of water is lost to North America’s supply system leaks. There was a Bipartisan Infrastructure Law passed in 2023 that includes over $8 billion for the aging water infrastructure.
  7. Over-Extraction of Groundwater – Overpumping groundwater faster than it can be replenished is a big water issue. Agricultural practices like drip irrigation slow the over-pumping of groundwater by reducing the amount of water wasted. We need more growers to use smart irrigation practices like drip irrigation to help solve water issues.

This is not the final list or even a perfect list. There are many more challenges and solutions. The challenges tend to move from region to region. The key is awareness of the issues, learning from the challenges, and taking steps to ensure the problems don’t reach your community. If you enjoyed this post, please consider subscribing to the blog or following me on Twitter at H2oTrends.

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