Climate Forecast: 70% of U.S. Counties Could Face Some Risk of Water Shortages by 2050

More than 1 in 3 U.S. counties could face a “high” or “extreme” risk of water shortages by 2050

by Dave Levitan, reposted from OnEarth

When the heat turns up in an overcrowded bar, patrons waiting for service tend to get thirstier. In the coming decades, a similar scenario may play out in the United States. According to a new study, more than a third of U.S. counties may be at “extreme” or “high” risk of water shortages by 2050. This won’t be due to a dearth in bartenders, of course, but the result of a swelling population, along with the potential temperature increases and precipitation changes associated with climate change.

The research, funded by the Natural Resources Defense Council (which publishes OnEarth), appeared last week in the journal Environmental Science and Technology.

The first strike against water supplies comes from increases in population. Projections suggest fairly linear growth between now and mid-century, meaning the U.S. will have about 419.9 million people in 2050 (up from its current population of 313,000,000). All of those additional Americana will have to drink, and eat food grown with water, and turn on lights powered by water-guzzling power plants.

Then there’s climate change. Temperature is expected to increase somewhere between 1.5 and 3° Celsius, and the warming air will be able to hold more water. The resulting changes in precipitation aren’t uniform by any means. Models suggest that Texas and the Gulf states will lose more than one inch per year, while the northeastern U.S. could get between two and four extra inches per year.

Notably, the study’s results are not meant to be taken as strict prognoses. “This is not intended as a prediction that water shortages will occur, but rather where they are more likely to occur, and where there might be greater pressure on public officials and water users to better characterize, and creatively manage demand and supply,” said the study’s lead author Sujoy Roy of Tetra Tech Research and Development, in a press release.

The end result of all this — hotter temperatures, changed precipitation, more people withdrawing more water — is that 412 of 3,141 counties (13 percent) in the lower 48 might be at “extreme” risk of water shortages in 2050. Another 608 counties will be at high risk, while 1,192 and 929 will be at moderate and low risk, respectively. Without climate change? Just 29 counties (less than 1 percent) would be at extreme risk, 271 at high risk, and more than 2,000 would be at low risk. It’s enough to make you thirsty for real action on this whole climate change thing. I’ll cheers to that.

Dave Levitan is a freelance journalist based in Philadelphia. This piece was originally published at OnEarth.

10 Responses to Climate Forecast: 70% of U.S. Counties Could Face Some Risk of Water Shortages by 2050

  1. Mike Roddy says:

    Looks like Arizona and Texas are toast. They will be playing golf on artificial grass, and filling their swimming pools with recycled sewage water.

    In a few decades, the oil joke will be over. “Drill baby drill” will be about going after the last of our fossil water. It will be more valuable, since river water will be contaminated by atrazine and pharmaceuticals. The big boys don’t care about their children, but when they notice their own gonads shrinking they will insist on deep ground sources for their water.

  2. While it is easy to write about managing supply and demand, I have experienced that many communities do not want to manage demand. When we have good years, they want the water to flow as it produces revenue to fund infrastructure. When we have bad water years, then there is something to “fall back on” when they ask citizens to conserve. At least, that is what the Dir of Public Works in my town told me.

    When the goal of a water agency is to meet whatever demand might happen, then their options are limited: increased storage (dams or water banking) and the new infrastructure to support that.

    Then,we have the fight over who gets that water. As Sacramento Bee’s Stuart Leavenworth writes: Dogs of war still hungry in ‘Water-stan’

    Read more here:

  3. John Tucker says:

    You will note Mr China can build it better Cliff Sterns’ district, that depends on agriculture a good deal, is heavily affected. (,_Florida_District_6_map.png )

    If we would have used one sixth to an eighth of a YEARLY defense budget we’d have more and better suited solar Installed now than Germany. If we used a defense budget for probably around 5 years we would likely be completely energy independent by now and probably have a budget surplus form increased tax revenues.

    Certainly not as severe of a dept.

    That point needs to be made constantly. Following the Right’s bad decisions has not only trashed the economy and our security but the enviroment and now also a good many people’s livelyhoods.

  4. John Tucker says:

    Incidentally Sterns district was a victim of redistricting. He is running against Steve Oelrich – another republican denier and two lesser known candidates.

    None look all that good.

    The third district has been Democrat since 1909. A democrat has not yet entered the race in the region for 2012.

    Ill contact the party and see if someone is planning a run.

  5. Pangolin says:

    I’ve been somewhat concerned about the continued dry weather out here in California and while checking the satellite and radar maps I’ve noticed it doesn’t appear to be raining or snowing in the U.S..

    Am I confused? Shouldn’t it be raining or snowing somewhere in the U.S. on most winter days? Help me out here.

  6. jyyh says:

    I’ve been assuming (for the past 5 years) the transition from grassland climate to desert climate could happen without the loss of Arctic sea ice, and hence been on the belief that a 5-year drought (climatologically pretty similar to the recently ended Australian one) is just waiting to happen on these areas. Maybe I’m wrong and this can happen only if and when the Arctic has melted in summers. (as the summer tropical rainbelt continues to flood Central American countries and possibly southern Mexico)

    It’s very likely there is not going to be a new smallest maximum of the Arctic Ice this year, mainly thanks to extra ice in Bering/Okhotsk seas. Cryosphere Today has the area currently at 13.0140553 Mkm^2 (data @:// which is over my guess but then there’s the thickness, and guessing Bering/Okhotsk Ice starts to vanish rapidly soon.

  7. Raul M. says:

    NOAA Climate prediction center has switched to the new 1981-2010 temp. data set to show weather temp.
    anomalies and is already showing at the high end of the color chart for the past 30 days over large areas of the US. I guess they know when to add more colors to show the high trends. Probably happens often that they add those extra high designations.

  8. MarkfromLexington says:

    Could you update the post with a higher resolution graphic of the map shown at the start of the post?

  9. wili says:

    I second that request. We all want to know if our county is on there, but it is hard to see individual counties on that map.