It may seem a bit counter-intuitive to speak about how America and the world is suffering from a water shortage when Colorado is partially underwater thanks to the “biblical” quantity of rainfall over the past week. However, this flooding disaster may actually mask the problem that is lurking in our future, and that is a severe lack of fresh water available to millions of Americans.
For more than hundred years, the world has been concerned with acquisition of the means to fuel its economy, namely coal and oil. However, in the not-so-distant future, one can expect the focus to shift to the securing of enough water resources. In fact, water will likely be what wars are fought over in the coming decades — especially in areas of high population, low stability and historically low water tables. Africa and Southeast Asia will become volatile regions in order to secure mankind’s most precious resource. This is simply a matter of inevitability.
Now, shifting focus to the home front, Americans typically don’t think of water scarcity as a major concern. Sure, we have some droughts and water restrictions, but big deal right? Fresh water always comes out of the tap and our lawns are still usually pretty green.
This will change in the coming years, especially in the southern states. Cities are overusing their water resources to the point of no return. The classic example of this is Las Vegas — one of the fastest growing cities in America, but it is literally in the middle of a desert, drawing most of its massive water consumption from very far away sources such as Lake Mead. This kind of urban sprawl in the deserts is simply unsustainable, and when the wells run dry, the city of Vegas will suffer immensely for it.
Perhaps the biggest threat to the southwestern and plains states is the absolute decimation of the Ogallala aquifer. It covers more than 100,000 square miles and it sits underneath the states of Texas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska, Wyoming and South Dakota. This aquifer is absolutely crucial to the way of life for people that live in these states. It provides much of the water needed for farming in these areas, and farms are critical to their economies. Without the aquifer, the livelihood of these states will be destroyed.
It’s not a matter of if it will be gone, either; it’s a matter of when. In the last few decades, this vast underground water reserve has gone from an average depth of 240 feet to 80 feet. Large areas of Texas have completely drained their parts of the aquifer. When the aquifer is gone and farmers compete with urban dwellers for the minimal quantities of water left over, prices will skyrocket.
Fort Collins and the CSU community are by no means immune from the coming water shortages. We live in an area that is increasingly plagued by fires, a side effect of the massive droughts in the area that leave plenty of dead wood to burn.
On top of the fires, the community can expect a shortage of water in the future. Again, they will compete with farmers for a shrinking amount of water that has to be spread around a ballooning population. Water is relatively cheap here now — thanks largely to the Poudre — but in future years, expect the costs to explode. CSU will likely raise student fees to compensate for watering the sidewalks and the grass on rainy days. People will start to hold institutions accountable for idiotic uses of water like this, as it will simply be unacceptable.
The USGS states that currently America uses 148 trillion gallons of fresh water a year, a number that is completely unsustainable. Unfortunately as to what can be done, options are somewhat limited. We have become accustomed to using as much as we want with little penalty. Expect one day to turn on the faucet and have not water come out, simply because there is none available. It will be a reality for many people that live in traditionally arid and semi-arid areas. I suggest a move to the northwest or northeast, because in the future, water will become scarce.
Res Stecker is a senior international studies and history double major, and is happy to write witty whimsical words of wisdom for all. Questions and comments can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org