Major U.S. Cities Are at Risk for Climate-Related Water Shortage: Report

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Photographer: Frederic J. Brown/AFP via Getty Images

Visitor at Seal Beach, south of Los Angeles.

Bloomberg BNA -- Washington, D.C., New York City, Los Angeles, and San Diego are among the cities most likely to face water scarcity as climate change increases drought potential, a study released May 15 found.

Along with the potentially 40 million Americans affected in these cities, several “breadbasket region” states such as Nebraska, Illinois, and Minnesota also made the list of vulnerable areas.

The report, America's Water Risk: Water Stress and Climate Variability, examined how climate could affect “vulnerability to short and long term droughts,” Upmanu Lall, director of the Columbia University Water Center, told BNA in an email.The study by Columbia University Water Center, Veolia Water, and Growing Blue highlighted the increased risk of water scarcity in cities and counties across the United States as climate change increases drought potential.

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The study also noted that population growth and increased demand for water in the future will further decrease water availability, if precipitation and water use patterns remain largely unchanged.With increasing populations and the inability to regain the water lost in droughts, cities can be at risk of having more demand for water than supply, if droughts increase with climate change.

Not Enough Water

“Projecting current trends, if you continue business as usual without any innovation, eventually you're going to get to a point where you're not going to have enough water to cover population demands,” Veolia Water Chief Sustainability Officer Edwin Pinero told BNA.

The country's population has increased 99 percent since 1950, while public water withdrawal has increased 50 percent. Total water withdrawals have increased 127 percent in that same time frame, the study found.The university created the Normalized Deficit Cumulated (NDC) to identify the impact of drought over several years and the Normalized Deficit Index (NDI) to examine the impact on an annual basis, examining more than 60 years of precipitation data and current water-use patterns. These metrics highlight the difference between how much water is used during any given time frame and how much water is available.

The study does not predict when the water scarcity will occur specifically. The findings are based on past patterns of population growth and droughts and take into account climate change's impact on drought prevalence.The report comes on the heels of an Ernst & Young corporate sustainability study in which 76 percent of corporate representatives chose water as a top resource at risk. Global demand for freshwater is expected to outstrip supply by 40 percent by 2030 and companies in northern India and northern China are already shutting down due to lack of water in the region, Ernst & Young's Adam Carrel told BNA May 9 (90 DER A-8, 5/9/13).

The partnership of Columbia, Veolia, and Growing Blue is intended to be politically neutral, Pinero said, but it should inform decisionmakers and public officials and start a dialogue about water scarcity.Veolia Water North America is a water services provider. Growing Blue is a collaborative made up of nongovernmental organizations, water companies, industry groups, and international organizations to build awareness of water issues and solutions.“We hope that as we generate more and more targeted information on [risks] and then solutions we will see financing for water infrastructure, conservation and efficient high value use be properly directed,” Lall told BNA.

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