Today is World Water Day and a U.S. report by the office of the Director of National Intelligence marks the day by predicting wars over water. With the world expected to add another two billion people by 2030, the report says that global water demand is likely to outstrip current sustainable supplies by 40 percent by then. Climate change will of course have an accelerating impact throughout the century.
The report also claims that the U.S. will have a new avenue for global leadership in helping to mitigate the problem worldwide, as it has expertise in water management in both the public and private sectors. If that’s so, the D.N.I. has to explain why American towns are running out of water as global warming bites, sending the entire SouthWest into years of drought.
To conserve what little water is left, the state of Texas restricted water use in 1,000 cities and towns last year. Of those, 17 are considered critical — in danger of running out of water in six months or less.
Topping that list is the town of Spicewood Beach, a community of 500 homes on the shores of Lake Travis near Austin. Spicewood relies on wells fed by water from both the lake and the aquifer below the town. Too much water use and too little rainfall last year caused the water table to sink to historic lows. This January, Spicewood Beach became the first Texas town to run out of water.
Now, a 7,000-gallon water truck arrives in Spicewood Beach each day to supply the homes.
Texas is already planning to take out more water from its rivers and aquifers than is actually there to take out in the first place – and with the population expected to boom by 80% by 2060, there’s no attempt at all to take account of climate change which means there’ll be even less water to go around by then. according to Texas Tech climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe:
Across Texas, towns experienced record low rainfall but also record high temperatures last year. Some towns, including Robert Lee, experienced more than 100 days of 100-degree temperatures. Those conditions are likely to become increasingly normal for the region, Hayhoe said, and that could make already severe droughts even worse.
”œWhat climate change is doing is it’s increasing our temperatures, and higher temperatures mean faster evaporation,” she says, ”œSo you need more water to provide the same amount of irrigation for crops if temperatures are higher. And that’s what we see happening here in Texas and in many places around the world.”
The pattern is being repeated across the SouthWest and through into California. Too little is being done because too many are in a state of denial. There’s no way that the Southern states can sustain their current water use beyond the middle of the century, let alone see the kinds of population growth being predicted but, especially in the Republican desert states, denialism means that an oncoming disaster is being ignored. Unless the federal government takes action, calls climate change a matter of national security and takes planning and implementing policies to cope out of these denialists hands now, by 2050 we’ll be left with a massive dustbowl punctuated by thousands of ghost towns and a few huge cities that suck up all the water. Beyond that, we might see forced migrations of millions as even those cities run dry. An American civil water war in the latter part of the century is not inconceivable.
Update Vikram Sood, former head of India’s external intelligence service, the Research and Analysis Wing, was characteristically ahead of the pack in 2007.